Tag Archives: Palestinians

The Opportunity We Dare Not Miss

In the short time since US President Donald Trump announced his plans to move the US embassy in Israel to Jerusalem, Israel has killed several unarmed Palestinians, including an old woman in the West Bank who suffered a fatal heart attack after the Israeli army lobbed a stun grenade into her home, and a disabled man in Gaza who had already lost both his legs and a kidney from Israel’s carpet bombing assault on the Strip a few years prior. Israeli forces have also injured scores more, including a 15 year old boy who is still in a coma after an Israeli soldier fired a rubber bullet at his face at point blank range. And thousands have been arrested or detained, including many children. Two of those are Ahed Tamimi and her mother Nariman Tamimi, after a viral video showed brave Ahed ejecting Israeli soldiers from their home in Nabi Saleh.
Ahed gained the world’s attention for video a few years ago which showed her courageously defending her 12 year old brother from a soldier who was brutally choking and beating him. A few years ago I had the honour of meeting Ahed’s father Bassem at a solidarity event in California. He was warm and kind, but his steadfast commitment to justice was passionately resolved. It was apparent that he and his wife imparted that integrity to their children.
The misery over the past few days has exposed many to the daily realities Palestinians face. But the US corporate media still obscures or omits the facts on the ground. So it’s time to clear a few things up.
     First of all this is not a conflict between two nations as is so often portrayed. It is the result of decades of oppression of an entire group of people by a state actor, namely Israel. The Palestinian Authority is little more than an apparatus of the occupation, and essentially does its bidding. Israel is the only state here and it possesses an army, navy and air force. The Palestinians do not. Israel has nuclear weapons and military aid from the most powerful nation on earth. The Palestinians do not. It enjoys full diplomatic, economic and military support from many nations around the world, including the most powerful empire in human history, the United States. The Palestinians do not.
Israel has blockaded Gaza since 2007, subjecting nearly 2 million people to intolerable conditions that amount to collective punishment. In fact, the entire strip may be uninhabitable by 2020 according to the UN. Israel has carved up the occupied West Bank into administrative zones that allow for military exercises and settler expansion for Jewish-only communities, and has built a wall of separation that limits Palestinian access to their jobs, farmland, medical facilities and schools.
Millions of people in the occupied West Bank live under military rule while settlers (illegal under international law) enjoy full rights and protections as citizens of Israel. This is how the Israeli army can swoop into neighbourhoods like Nabi Saleh and arrest anyone they please, including scores of children, some as young as 8 years old, who are whisked away in the night and taken to undisclosed locations. And they have done this for years with impunity.
The US media often conflates criticism of Israel with antisemitism. Israel was built on the ideology of Zionism which is not the same as Judaism, although many prominent Zionists would love for people to think so. Judaism is an ethnic/religious identity with a rich tradition and culture that goes back millenia and spans dozens of societies, from Russia to Iran to Europe and the Americas. Zionism is a nationalistic, political ideology that emerged from anti-Jewish persecution in Europe and yet was fashioned after European colonialism itself.
Of course there are some who employ the use of antisemitic language in their criticism of the Israeli regime. This is intolerable. These individuals or groups have their own agenda, but Palestinian solidarity is not one of them. They choose to ignore or downplay the many Jewish and Israeli human rights groups who share similar ideals in their support of Palestinian rights and self-determination, including Holocaust survivors and organizations like Jewish Voice for Peace, B’Tselem, Breaking the Silence and Rabbis for Human Rights, among many others.
Trump’s bumbling concession to his conservative religious base has unwittingly ripped the veil from the farce of the “peace process.” It has demonstrated that the US cannot arbitrate negotiations. Truthfully, it has never even tried. After all, the Israeli settler-colonial model mirrors the American one; and it provides the Empire a foothold in the Middle-East which it will not relinquish easily. But with this illusion shattered, perhaps an opportunity emerges. One that can bridge like movements around the world.
          Oppression cannot last forever. Those who think so ignore the weight of history. But solidarity with the oppressed is not taking the side of one ethnic, religious or racial group over another either. It is taking the side of justice and universal human rights against racism, tyranny and state violence. It is standing with the powerless against the powerful. And in this troubled time for the besieged, living earth and all of humanity, it is an opportunity we dare not miss.
Kenn Orphan  2017

Ushering in the Closing Chapter of the Human Species

The epic assaults being carried out against the vulnerable around the world at this very moment will determine the fate of our species and the living earth itself.  To the powerful this statement is hyperbole at its extreme, but to those of us on the other side there is no condemnation that is too exaggerated when it comes to the destruction of communities and of the biosphere itself.  The attacks are taking place along ancient rivers in the American Dakotas, in the life drenched rain forests of Ecuador, in historic olive groves in Palestine, in the melting tundra of the Arctic circle, in the sun baked Niger Delta, and in the war torn or misery laden shanty’s of Aleppo, Kolkata, Jakarta, Nairobi and beyond.  These may seem like separate instances to some, but they are a part of a global struggle and the outcome will in all likelihood determine our collective future and that of millions of other species that we share this planet with.

This screen shot from a Democracy NOW! video purports to show security dogs used Sept. 3, 2016, to drive back protestors who had overrun the Dakota Access Pipeline worksite north of Cannon Ball, N.D. Images Courtesy Democracy NOW!

indigenous-leaders-from-ecuador-protest-chevrons-deliberate-pollution-of-the-rainforest-photo-from-new-york-timesI believe that the intersectionality of these conflicts are indicative of a broader struggle over guiding principles and mythologies.  Some may see this as an oversimplification, and while I would agree that we should be careful to consider and respect nuance, context and individual histories, there are some general themes which may unite us while there is still time.  These conflicts have been with our species since we began to walk upright.  But now they are global in scale and there are two sides that should be identified above all others.

One side values living beings over profit, and sees protection of the water and the soil and the air as the most fundamental responsibilities of any society.  It values cooperation and generosity above individual ambition.  It shuns all forms of violent coercion, land theft and repression.  It is against aggression and wars of conquest.  It is the way of Community. The other is based upon the dominance of the physically powerful and suppression of the weak. It sees the living planet merely as a means for amassing material profit.  It commodifies everything, living and non.  It values avarice and ruthless competition over cooperation. It believes the only viable way forward is through suppression of dissent, ridicule, marginalization of the poor and the downtrodden, jingoistic nationalism and organized State violence.  It is the way of Empire.

palestinian-protesters-stand-amid-blazes-set-by-settlers-to-their-olive-groves-photo-source-transcend

canadian-paramilitary-forces-attack-indigenous-elsipogtog-mi-kmaq-first-nation-and-local-residents-as-they-blockaded-a-new-brunswick-fracking-exploration-site-photo-from-common-dreams

activists-in-port-harcourt-nigeria-photo-source-earth-first-journalThe language of Empire is duplicitous.  It employs the parlance of pale euphemisms like sustainability, austerity or free trade to obscure its true authoritarian and feudalistic intentions.  It encourages nationalistic sentimentality and racial and ethnic division to obscure the reality of its imposed classism.  It objectifies the living planet through clever marketing and branding with such subtle ease that it becomes ever more difficult to decipher and parse.  But in the end the Empire cannot cloak the stench of a dying world forever with catchy jingles, cynical ploys, shiny new objects, paranoid bigotries or vapid distractions.

In their quest to maintain and grow their coffers, the powerful see the dissolving ice cap as a strategic business opportunity for geopolitical advancement.  They see the growing difficulty in extracting high quality petroleum as an excuse to erase ancient mountaintops, pierce deep ocean trenches and scrape away primeval forests for less viable and more earth damaging fossil fuels.  They see growing inequities between us and the handful of people who own half the world’s wealth as opportunities for enhanced security walls and surveillance.  They see hunger and famine as a chance to litter the world with pesticides and chemically or genetically altered food or factory farms which are little more than massive concentration camps for sentient beings.  They see flattened forests and fouled rivers as a way of moving indigenous peoples into overcrowded, cordoned off corporate colonies for easier exploitation, social control and abandonment.  And if they continue on their path the world they are forging will rival every other civilization in history in atrocity, repression and misery.

President Clinton And President George W. Bush Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

Trump and Clinton. Getty Images.

Oil Executives. Source: Chip Somodevilla/Getty ImagesThe war the Empire is waging is not about isms or ideologies, it is about power, exploitation and wealth.  And to those of us being assaulted the cause is as urgent as it is dire.  It is literally about life and death.  We see the rising tides of an ever imperiled, acidic sea. We walk in the fallow fields where there may be no crops harvested tomorrow.  We breathe the acrid air choked out by smokestacks of insatiable, blind industry.  We see the walls and borders and checkpoints and guard dogs and police tanks and surveillance cameras and detention camps burgeoning as if unstoppable.  We hear the drums of imperialistic war being beaten every day of every year.  And we stand in shock at the unquenchable lust for wealth that stain the halls of power even as they dig our dusty mass graves.  When we sound the alarm or even raise concern about any of this we can expect to be ignored, chided or silenced by the powerful in the media, corporations, the military or political establishment or even clergy.  We anticipate being co-opted by the ruling oligarchy or by cynical corporate interests.  But we are weary of this kind of marginalization and we aren’t going down without a fight.

protectors-of-the-water-north-dakota-source-bbc

ST. LOUIS, MO - MARCH 14: Ferguson activists march through downtown during a protest on March 14, 2015 in St. Louis, Missouri. St. Louis and the nearby town of Ferguson have experienced many protests, which have often been violent, since the death of Michael Brown who was shot and killed by a Ferguson police officer in August. On Wednesday evening two police officers were shot while they were securing the Ferguson police station during a protest. (Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images)

Officials observe indigenous people protesting in BrazilThe powerful will not stop waging their war this year or next.  It will undoubtedly play out and grow for the next few decades even as the planet’s ecosystem’s spiral and crash, because dollar signs and dominance are all they truly understand.   This is not just another chapter in some unending saga of the human story.  It is not something that any resident of planet earth can afford to sit out.   If they are victorious this war may very well usher in the closing chapter of the human species and far sooner than anyone could ever imagine.  We must join with each other if only to ease each others suffering, or bring one small amount of justice to the oppressed, or to protect one small river way or field or stretch of beach.  This war they are waging is against the living planet and their own future whether they realize it or not.  But even if they do not care about their children’s future, we must.

a-native-american-woman-sits-on-a-bluff-in-north-dakota-at-the-pipeline-protest-source-the-guardianKenn Orphan 2016

Defining BDS

Since the recent spate of violence in Israel/Palestine, there has been a well oiled response by apologists to defend the ongoing dispossession, apartheid and ethnic cleansing of the Palestinians by the Israeli regime, a crime which has been permitted to continue for over 60 years. This response is not anything new, but due to the successes of the Boycott, Divest, Sanction Movement (BDS) the rhetoric has been ratcheted up.

The situation, as usual, is portrayed by most of the mainstream press as a conflict between two peoples over religion, where both are relatively equal in power. Context and history be damned.  The acts of violence committed by the Palestinians is covered as if they were random and born from a “culture of hate.”  But facts remain facts.

Gaza City Photo AFPIsrael has an army, navy and air force.  The Palestinians do not.  Israel has nuclear weapons and military aid from the most powerful nation on earth.  The Palestinians do not.  Israel has blockaded Gaza since 2007, subjecting nearly 2 million people to intolerable conditions that amount to collective punishment.  It has carved up the occupied West Bank into administrative zones that allow for military exercises and settler expansion for Jewish-only communities, and has built a wall of separation that limits Palestinian access to their jobs, farmland, medical facilities and schools.

Palestinians in the occupied West Bank have no access to civil courts like Jewish settlers.  They have been under military rule for decades with the Palestinian Authority, a proxy government, enforcing Israel Defense Force orders; and they are subject to military tribunals.  Even children are routinely whisked away in the middle of the night with no warning by the IDF, and taken to undisclosed detention facilities where they are often placed in solitary confinement.  And last summer the Israeli regime flattened much of Gaza killing over 2300 people, mostly civilians including hundreds of children, and injuring and displacing thousands more.  But, astonishingly, if one dares question any of this they are often accused of antisemitism.

Jewish Voice for Peace NY Chapter-End Military AidAntisemitism is as abhorrent as any other kind of social hatred.  And it is not any less repulsive when applied to one group over another.  But what is interesting is that many who have decried antisemitism seem to have no problem spewing repugnant, anti-Arab screeds and, incredulously, not seeing any irony in doing so.   This has enabled the glossing over of right wing, nationalist mobs taking to the streets of Jerusalem and Tel Aviv chanting “Death to Arabs” and attacking anyone whom they believe Palestinian or a leftist.

A Palestinian man points to Hebrew graffiti reading “Death to the Arabs” following an arson attack in Khirbet Abu Falah, northeast of the West Bank city of Ramallah, Sunday, Nov. 23, 2014. Source Ma'an News.What has been convoluted in this discourse is the conflation of  the criticism of Zionism with antisemitism.  Zionism and Judaism are not one and the same, although many prominent Zionists would love for people to think so.  Judaism is an ethnic/religious identity with a rich tradition and culture that goes back millenia and spans dozens of societies, from Russia to Iran to Europe and the Americas. Zionism is a nationalistic, political ideology that was born of antisemitism in Europe and fashioned after European colonialism itself.

An Israeli soldier puts a Palestinian boy in choke hold for allegedly throwing rocks at Israeli tanks. Source Ha'aretz.In the early days of the Zionist movement several places were considered for a Jewish homeland, including Argentina and Uganda. But because of cultural and religious ties, the Zionists settled on Palestine. As in any colonial structure, Zionism created an ethnocracy, where the indigenous people were forcibly removed to make way for another group who are placed in a higher class than other ethnic, religious or racial groups through laws, institutionalized racism, expulsion, dehumanization and military terror.  Essentially apartheid.

Segregated Shuhada Street, Hebron, Occupied West BankContrary to some misguided assumptions, the focus of the BDS movement is not to expel Jewish people who live in the region or are native to the land. It is a non-violent protest to end the occupation, lift the crippling blockade on Gaza, and dismantle apartheid, just as was done in South Africa. The ultimate goal is one secular, democratic state, where all religious traditions and ethnicities are protected.

Many Israeli regime apologists have countered that the BDS movement singles out Israel, while ignoring the egregious and barbarous atrocities of other regimes in the area and around the world. This is also untrue. The brutal state violence and oppression of Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Syria, Turkey and others is unequivocally condemned and opposed. The universal demand is an end to all military aid to these governments as well as Israel.  BDS is a non-violent response to Israeli apartheid specifically; but is an integral part of the global struggle against colonialist racism and imperialism, from the Americas to Africa to the Middle-east and Asia.

A Palestinian protester attacked by an IDF dog during a protest in the West Bank, 2012. Photo by Lazar Simeonov

A Palestinian woman clings to one of her olive trees threatened for demolition by the IDF. Source Reuters.There are, as in any movement, some who employ the use of antisemitic language in their criticism of the Israeli regime. This is intolerable, and it is also antithetical to the cause of universal human rights. These individuals or groups have their own agenda, and Palestinian solidarity is not one of them. But there are many Jewish and Israeli human rights group who share similar ideals in their support of Palestinian rights and self-determination, including Jewish Voice for Peace, B’Tselem and Rabbis for Human Rights among many others.

Holocaust survivor in solidarity with PalestineThese voices are usually stifled or excluded from mainstream media coverage in favor of more reactionary groups like the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) or the Anti-Defamation League (ADL), who are experts at conflating criticism of Zionism with antisemitism in the public sphere. Until all voices are heard equally there will be no real justice or peace, and apartheid, alienation and dispossession will continue and grow. BDS worked to end South African apartheid, where political and diplomatic interventions failed by design. And after decades of misery, conflict and strife, it appears to be the only viable option in this case as well.

A Palestinian man holds the key to the home he was expelled from by Israeli forces. Photo Getty Images.Solidarity with the oppressed is not taking the side of one ethnic, religious or racial group over another. It is taking the side of justice and universal human rights against racism, tyranny and state violence, something that all human beings, regardless of social identity, should be entitled to.

An Israeli peace activist. Source Times Union.

Kenn Orphan 2015

Chaos and Misery, Inc.

A multiple rocket launch system was on display at the Norinco Group pavilion at an international defense exhibition in Abu Dhabi in February. Photo Bloomberg NewsThis week well over 100 civilians were slaughtered in Yemen by a Saudi drone strike while they were attending a wedding.  The massacre is yet one more atrocity piled upon a wretched heap of hypocrisy and hubris.  But it, like the other US supported or orchestrated drone strikes, will undoubtedly disappear from the headlines in a matter of weeks, if not days.

A man displays the bloodied shirt of a child victim at the rubble of houses destroyed by an Saudi air strike in the Okash village near Yemen's capital Source TelesurtvSaudi Arabia, like Israel, is a client state of the American Empire and is vital to its unending, colonial quest for dominance in the Middle-east.  Its atrocities, like Israel, are explained away or not even covered at all by the Western mainstream press. The medieval kingdom of Saud has beheaded nearly 90 people this year alone for “offenses” like witchcraft or blasphemy. It mercilessly persecutes its Shia minority, oppresses women, executes LGBTQ people and tolerates the enslavement of domestic workers from the Philippines. But the US media barely utters a peep (except, perhaps, to occasionally criticize the kingdom’s no driving policy for privileged Saudi women). The atrocities of ISIS, on the other hand, are rarely ever out of Western press coverage.

Saudi swordsmen used for executions. Source Yahoo.Right now, Saudi Arabia is doing to Yemen what Israel did to Gaza last summer. And, as in that case, the barbarity has the unflinching support of the Nobel Peace Prize winner in the White House, and both criminal political parties in the US Senate. As in Gaza, the poor continue to be pulverized by the powerful. And this same elite class will, most assuredly, give themselves awards for this savagery with the uncritical support from a sycophantic, apathetic corporate owned media.

The destruction of Yemen. Photo by Hani Mohammed AP.Yemen, like Cambodia or Chile or Honduras or Somalia or Libya or Ukraine will be easily forgotten by the ruling elite.  And the West will wash the entire narrative of its culpability.  It must, after all, if it intends to continue its rampage.  All battlefields have become testing grounds for their latest products. And the most lucrative industry of the American Empire is arms dealing.  It is Chaos and Misery, Inc. and you can be sure they will not give that up without a fight. 

Militarized police forces in Ferguson, Missouri. Source Reuters.But as we look at Yemen or Gaza dispassionately, we would be foolish to not take a closer look at ourselves.  The Empire is beginning to crack as our living earth groans under its insipid and insatiable corpulence.  And as it does we can expect the power class to treat the vast majority of us much like those in these ever besieged nations: as valuable when we can furnish them with wealth, and easily disposable if we refuse.

Kenn Orphan  2015

An Intolerable Nightmare

A Jewish settler walks past a Palestinian on Shuhada Street  in the West Bank city of Hebron. Nayef Hashlamoun Reuters

Israeli politicians and the press often become indignant when Israel is accused of apartheid. Other than the fact that the Palestinians have endured decades of military occupation, are not entitled to vote for the leaders that decide their fate, and are subject to different justice systems (Palestinians are under a military tribunal), there are many other examples in every day life. One example is Hebron, an occupied city in the West Bank. Here, on streets like Shuhada Street, Jews are segregated from Palestinians. Some may say that this is for “security,” but that is easily refuted because it began not after a Palestinian act of terrorism, but a Jewish one. In 1994 twenty-nine Palestinian worshipers were massacred at the Cave of the Patriarchs by American-born Jewish extremist, Baruch Goldstein.

Shuhuda Street Hebron

Today illegal Zionist settlers, who have appropriated land, are given financial incentives to stay there by the Israeli government and are given protection by the Israel Defense Force (IDF). In Hebron the IDF has literally sealed Palestinians into their homes on Shuhada Street, forcing them to enter and exit from their rooftops. At the market in Hebron Palestinians have been forced to put up a net over the walkway because settlers throw garbage, liquid and waste down on shoppers and vendors.  Throughout the occupied West Bank Jewish settlers harass Palestinians daily, cut or burn down their olive trees and poison wells with impunity. Palestinians have great difficulty obtaining building permits; and homes are routinely demolished while the Israeli government funds the construction of illegal Jewish-only settlements.  As the United Nations revealed, Palestinian children (some as young as 7) are routinely arrested and held without charge or access to their parents for days or weeks.

Hebron Market with Net  Source Mother Jones


It should go without saying that criticizing this injustice is not antisemitic, a favorite slur of pro-Israel apologists. But this accusation continues despite the fact that prominent Jews and Jewish Israelis, many Holocaust survivors, have come out against the occupation. These include Miko Peled, Norman Finkelstein and the late Dr. Hajo Meyer and organizations like Jewish Voice for Peace or B’Tselem. They make it clear that this is about holding Israel accountable when it endlessly claims about how it is the “only democracy in the Middle-east” or that it is a bastion of liberty and equality. This farce is easily disputed with even tacit research into the reality.  Occupation and dehumanization are married to one another and after decades it lays down the foundations to become a state sanctioned institution.

Apartheid ended in South Africa because of a sustained movement of boycotts and divestment. And today the Boycott Divest Sanction (BDS) movement is attempting to do the same. This region could become a bastion of equality in a secular state for all people. The indigenous population could obtain autonomy and their dignity as human beings could be recognized and honored.  Colonialism could be stopped.  But as long as the United States supports this kind of intransigence and entrenched racist policy, BDS remains the only non-violent and hopeful alternative to what has become an intolerable nightmare for millions of people.

Palestinian boy holds sign in Hebron  Source Shutterstock  Mother Jones

Kenn Orphan 2015

(The video is courtesy of the Israeli human rights organization B’Tselem בצלם.)

To Save an Entire World

Marc Chagall PassoverIt is Passover, the Jewish holiday celebrating freedom from slavery. The details of the story or its historicity are not important because all cultures have myths that provide foundational meaning; and rituals provide us an opportunity for the tradition of storytelling as well as reflection. Arguably it is this myth that has been the most influential in Judaism, which has a long and rich history of ethics and social justice. Two thousand years ago the great teacher Hillel said “whosoever destroys a soul, it is considered as if he destroyed an entire world. And whosoever that saves a life, it is considered as if he saved an entire world.” Bearing centuries of pogroms and persecution which led to the ultimate horror of the Holocaust, Jews have maintained a cultural identity that defied the odds. This heritage is rooted in liberation and justice. So it is painful for many Jews of conscience to see how the Israeli regime has sullied much of that past with the stain of apartheid, racism and the ethnic cleansing of the Palestinians.

The Zionist experiment may have been born of the injustice of antisemitism in Europe; but it ended in reflecting the cruelest and most brutal forms of European colonialism. Theodor Herzl (1860 – 1904), one of the founders of Zionism, said: “We shall have to spirit the penniless population across the border … while denying it any employment in our country.”  David Ben Gurion, Israel’s first prime minister, stated: “We must do everything to insure they [the Palestinians] never do return … The old will die and the young will forget.”  And in 1983 Raphael Eitan, chief of staff of the Israeli Defense Forces explained: “When we have settled the land, all the Arabs will be able to do about it will be to scurry around like drugged cockroaches in a bottle.”

But as Palestinian poet Mahmoud Darwish said so eloquently:

“The Palestinians’ understanding of this war is embodied in their exposure to a massive uprooting. It is embodied in their being transformed into refugees within their own homeland and beyond it. It is embodied in the attempt to expel them from being, from space, from time, after the usurpation of their homes and their histories, after their transformation from an honest entity in time and place to a ghostly surplus to requirements, exiles from being.

But the makers of the nakba, of the catastrophe, failed to break the will of the Palestinian people and to eradicate their national identity, through diasporisation, through massacre, through pretending that the mirage was a reality, through the production of a counterfeit history. In the past five decades they have failed to push us into absenting ourselves or to cast us into a state of amnesic dementia.”

Today this experiment is on shaky ground and it has created a country that lives in a state of constant paranoia and aggressive nationalism. Many Jews around the world and within Israel have and continue to fight against the injustice this ideology has wrought in the struggle for equal rights for all residents of the region and not just one privileged ethnic group. They understand that if any nation wishes to be considered a democracy it cannot persist in decades long systemic discrimination and military occupation. Israelis Watch the Bombing of Gaza in Sderot Andrew Burton Getty Images Occupation generally leads to social hatred, distrust and antipathy towards the other. In Israel this was no more clear than when Israelis gathered on a hilltop outside the town of Sderot to watch the destruction of Gaza this past summer. Many were left scratching their heads at such callous disregard for an entire population with no where to run. It is true that residents of Sderot have had to deal with terrifying random rockets, but the disproportionate response by Israel was surreal and horrifying. Over 2100 residents were killed, over 500 of them children, and tens of thousands left homeless by a bombing campaign that leveled entire neighborhoods. Hundreds of thousands were left scarred, both physically and psychologically. Hospitals, schools and UN shelters were bombed. Boys were killed playing football on the beach, sports fans were killed in a cafe watching the World Cup on t.v., and whole families were wiped out in the blink of an eye. A woman holds the body of her daughter, who medics said died on Friday from injuries sustained in an Israeli air strike on Thursday afternoon, at her funeral in Rafah Khuzaa Gaza ruins Sderot itself is an example of one town out of hundreds that was cleansed of its Palestinian residents in 1948 in what is referred to as the Nakba, or Catastrophe. Scores of Palestinians were made refugees in the Gaza Strip straining the resources of the existing residents. Everyday they look at the homes that were once theirs.  Today Gaza is blockaded on all sides by Israel and Egypt. Food, construction materials and medicine are heavily restricted. The water treatment plants, already in dire shape, were decimated by Israeli bombing leaving nearly 90% of the water contaminated and undrinkable. Fishermen are routinely fired on if they stray outside the boundary of a few nautical miles. The UN estimates that Gaza will be unlivable by 2020. In the occupied West Bank Jewish settlers, under the protection of the Israel Defense Force (IDF), routinely hack down or burn Palestinian olive trees, destroy their wells and harass village residents. The city of Hebron is segregated and Palestinian businesses and homes have been walled up by the IDF. The wall of separation has divided towns and prevented farmers access to their fields. And Palestinian houses are demolished leaving whole families homeless. Israeli and Palestinian Women Protest the Seperation Wall at Bilin Image Courtesy of Gush Shalom This kind of sustained injustice and dehumanization infects both the victims and their victimizers. And its persistence creates a broken people, unable to face the cancer of their hate and entrenched in paranoia. But over the years, despite it being an uphill battle, Jews and Palestinians have come together to fight the occupation.  Jewish ethics have informed environmental and social justice movements around the world, from the Civil Rights movement in the United States to the fight against apartheid in South Africa. But like many other traditions it has been co-opted by those only interested in war mongering, sowing fear and maintaining power. Reclaiming it is essential because if there is anything that should be communicated this Passover it would be the message of liberation from oppression. It is a moral imperative that is rooted deeply in the human psyche, and it is one that belongs to all people who seek justice for the oppressed.

Kenn Orphan  2015

Facing Our Greatest Nemesis

Photographer Paulo Fridman Bloomberg Sao Paulo, Brazil, a city of over 11 million people, may literally run out of water. Let that really sink in for a moment. Politicians in Brazil ignored or downplayed this crisis until it reached the calamitous point it is at now.  Instead they poured their attention and money into the World Cup and displaced thousands of people from their homes in the process.  In recent weeks people across varying demographics have taken to the streets to protest the gross malfeasance of a government drunk on the lies of neoliberalism, which Wikipedia defines as “privatization, fiscal austerity, deregulation, free trade, and reductions in government spending in order to enhance the role of the private sector in the economy.”   It is also the most destructive, savage and final stage of capitalism. Photograph Andre Penner AP For most of us the enormity of this catastrophe is still difficult to grasp.  But there it is right in front of us. The normalcy bias, that almost hypnotic state of denial we often experience when faced with disaster, appears to be ubiquitous these days. The media reports these stories (sometimes) but there is seldom, if ever, a discussion about the global ramifications an existential threat like this presents for all of humanity.  Sao Paulo should serve as a loud wail of warning that the entire world has forever changed, and we are not prepared for what lies ahead.

Crops Dying Time
Herein lies the lesson for all of us.  As climate change accelerates and the resources of our planet dwindle, rivers dry up, fields lay fallow, and flood waters rise, the wealthy and powerful will do the only thing they know how to do. They will ignore or downplay serious environmental problems.  They will build more prison walls. They will arm their police forces with the equipment of the battlefield. They will launch war after war of imperialistic plunder cloaked in a veil of meaningless slogans and jingoism. They will employ racism to divide. They will continue to dismantle civil liberties under the guise of national security. They will instruct the media to distract and invert the truth. And they will keep us all on a diet while they feast on what remains. Gaza City Photo AFP Israel’s treatment of Gaza also provides a window into a future that all humanity may soon know all too well. It is emblematic of a future of militarized walls and open air prisons. Since the beginning of the blockade in 2007 Gaza has been reduced to rubble over and over again, the last time in the summer of 2014, in what can accurately be called collective punishment. Food and construction materials are still restricted. And an Israeli official spoke plainly regarding their intentions. “The idea,” he said, “is to put the Palestinians on a diet, but not to make them die of hunger.” After Israel repeatedly destroyed its infrastructure, Gaza may now be out of clean drinking water as soon as 2020. The casualness of such barbarity is staggering, especially since the population of Gaza is over 40% children under 14 years of age. Khuzaa Gaza ruins No matter how one views the history of this region, it should be clear to most that Israel is far more powerful than Gaza, which is restricted by Israel in exporting goods, and has no army, air force or navy. In contrast, Israel is an economic powerhouse which exports military technology and pharmaceuticals, and is the fourth largest military power in the world in addition to possessing nuclear weapons. It also controls Gazan airspace, restricts travel in and out of the strip, and routinely fires on fishermen off its coast. It is an example of neoliberal plunder being played out with textbook precision in a Western nation.  The powerful vanquish the powerless; and the wealthy grow their wealth in stupefying proportions in the midst of immense and imposed poverty. Pollution in India Source Voice of India In India, the world’s most populous democracy, neoliberalism has carved out a landscape that magnifies wealth inequities. As in China, river ways are polluted with industrial waste in a mad dash toward the reward of material wealth and an inevitable descent into dystopian misery. It is a nation that is literally on the brink of mass migration, social collapse and extinction, but is one of the most lauded among the neoliberal elite. Here one can see the grotesque display of wealth sitting upon a pile of refuse being praised for its so-called progress.  Mumbai is a visual aid to understanding the end result of neoliberalism.  Gilded towers rise in supercilious impudence above fetid shanty towns of exploitation and misery.  And the wealthy have created an insular bubble to shield them from the blight of indigence that surrounds them.  As in Israel, there is a growing reactionary nationalism which poses unique and terrifying prospects given that it too possesses nuclear arms.

Mumbai India Source Getty Images
In truth the immoral metric of neoliberal capitalism is incapable of preparing us for the catastrophies looming on the horizon. Its machinery is greased by illusion, distraction and willful ignorance. It is the reason why depression and anxiety dominate the Western psyche. It is the most emblematic feature of a dying civilization, medicated to numbness through drugs, alcohol, violence, political spectacle and vacuous entertainment.  It is an order that views the powerless as either commodities for exploitation or nuisances for disposal. The oil under the thawing Arctic or the beleaguered rainforests of South America and the bread basket of war torn Ukraine are all business opportunities. The damage done is calculated as “externalities,” essentially someone else’s problem. But the world is getting smaller and the dumping grounds are getting closer, even to the enclaves of the privileged and powerful.

02. Misery's CompanyWe, as a species, have either created, permitted or have been oppressed by the order that is threatening our collective demise in a mere blip of geologic time. Indeed, it is this order that has already sentenced countless species to the halls of extinction; and enslaves millions of people around the world in sweatshop fire traps, pesticide ridden fields and lung choking mines. But our dissent is a raft to actualized freedom. Our ability to simply say no may be our last and greatest action against the brutality and cruelty of our age.  Walruses are finding less and less sea ice. Image by the U.S. Geological Survey.Unique Fish Species is Dangerously Close to Extinction. Photo Source Animal Planet.Endangered Sea Turtles. Photo Jordi Chias PujolIt is certain that neoliberal capitalism’s days are numbered. To wit, regardless of its implacable hubris, it simply cannot outsmart nature.  Sao Paulo, Gaza and India provide us with some of the best examples we have of its dystopian future.  They should serve as warnings and ignite our conscience and imagination.  But the minutes to midnight are quickening; and the ability of our species to deny reality and delay action is staggering.  It is true that human beings have a remarkable capacity to rise from improbable ashes, but now we are facing the greatest nemesis we have ever encountered… ourselves.  And the odds of us rising again after this ever impending fall are getting slimmer by the second.

Kenn Orphan   2015

Our Shared Humanity

thanks for the advice palestine  FergusonFollowing the execution of an unarmed black youth by a police officer, images of the over the top militarized response in Missouri toward an entire community have gone around the world.  Even the press has been targeted.  Many in Gaza have taken note of this, and have offered much appreciated support and advice to the besieged people of Ferguson.  For instance, Gazans, via Twitter, advised protestors on how to dilute the acerbic sting of tear gas. This should not be surprising in the least.  After all, the Palestinians know better than most of how to cope with the brutality of state violence.

Gaza is an open air prison where 1.8 million people are surrounded by walls, barbed wire and sentry towers; and where they are subjected to collective punishment, humiliation and dehumanization by an occupying military.  Their diet is strictly controlled, their water is mostly contaminated.  And when they try to fish or farm they are routinely fired upon.  They understand what it is like to be in captivity with no voice.

Ferguson is a microcosm of the institutionalized systems of racism that have been permitted to fester and entrench themselves within the American landscape.  It is a visible manifestation of the pernicious segregation that never completely dissolved.  And so it naturally has parallels to other marginalized and disenfranchised communities the world over, including Gaza.

Solidarity in the struggle against tyranny between two different peoples is irreproachable.  It is the recognition that ordinary people anywhere in the world not only wish to live in peace, but demand social and economic justice for their communities.  When we finally realize that our strength lies in our interdependence, and is the only answer to state violence and oppression, the powerful tremble.  They should.  Because this kind of non-violent resistance is formidable.  And the legacy of our shared humanity endures far longer than their brutality ever could.

Kenn Orphan  2014

(Photo is of two women attending a vigil in Ferguson, Missouri/Twitter)

An Absurd Joke

Khuzaa Gaza ruinsIn the age of social media images and videos are accessible to virtually anyone anywhere on the planet instantaneously.  This has made it increasingly difficult for brutal regimes to hide their crimes.  We see this in Aleppo, Syria and Donetsk, Ukraine; and we see this in Gaza today. One of the prevailing justifications given for Israel’s murderous assault on the captive population of Gaza has been self-defense.  But this photograph shatters that story like glass.

Israel’s continued narrative of perpetual victim is beginning to fray.  It was an implausible notion to begin with given that it enjoys lavish support from one of the most powerful nations on the planet.  Nevertheless, the hawks of war continue to play this worn out old record.  It is all they have left in their tattered bag of moral excuses.

PALESTINIAN-ISRAEL-CONFLICT-GAZA

It is the oft repeated tale of empire. Empathy is not afforded to the uprooted indigenous and the ethnically cleansed.   They are stripped of their humanity and categorized as a “demographic problem.”  Any resistance, even if it is non-violent, is painted as terrorism.  And any characteristic that shows them as a caring parent, or a child full of wonder, or a young couple in love, is ignored or marginalized.  The colonial settler, prodded on by the empire, is cast as a victim against savages.

Gaza City Photo AFP

But as daybreak casts its light on the pulverized remains of an oppressed and brutalized people, the excuses are being exposed for the shameless lies that they are.  The ruins of Gaza attest to the farce of self-defense.  From the bombed out hospitals and universities to the graves of children who were executed for committing the crime of playing football on a beach, the jingoistic infused rhetoric of the powerful is more and more sounding like an absurd joke.  Only no one with a conscience is laughing.

Kenn Orphan  2014

(photo: Khuzaa, Gaza/AP)

Because it is the Human Thing to Do

gaza boy 1Since Israel’s murderous assault on Gaza, a captive population in what is the world’s biggest open air prison, there have been scores of heartbreaking stories that have emerged from the Strip.  For the medical staff at Al-Shifa hospital there is barely a lull between patients flooding their corridors, bloody, screaming and near death.  But through it all these devoted staff members, many of them volunteers, have remained to help the wounded and comfort the bereaved.  They do this at great risk to their personal safety.  They do it because it is the human thing to do.

Politicians and military generals love to cite tactical statistics and spin their most heinous attacks into word games.  “Surgical precision” and “targeted killing” are some of the terms used this time in Gaza.  Recently, Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu said that Gaza’s dead are “telegenic” meaning they have an “appearance or manner that is appealing on television.”  It is difficult to plum the depths of utter depravity in such a comment, but it is a defining characteristic  of the kind of person who can justify bombing hospitals, cafes and boys playing football on the beach.

The wordsmiths of organized murder will never understand the courage it takes to remain in a home, or a school, or a hospital even as the bombs are reigning down around them.  They will never know how a child’s hand feels as the life drains out of them on a cold, steel stretcher in a crowded corridor.  They will never no the crushing sorrow of having to tell a grandmother that her entire family has been killed in one indiscriminate attack.  They sit comfortably in leather chairs within the guarded, air conditioned catacombs they call “war rooms.”  They are shielded from such visceral experiences by the rhetoric they have carefully constructed to defend their patently indefensible actions.

But in the end their folly will be relegated to the dusty confines of a barely read book, while the warm touch of compassion generously given by a nurse, or doctor, or medic, will be remembered in the most sacred of places; the human heart.

Kenn Orphan  2014

Photo: Wounded Palestinian boy clutches medic, Al-Shifa Hospital, Gaza (Photograph: Ezz al-Zanoun/APA images)