2014 was designated by the United Nations as the International Year of Solidarity with the Palestinian People. Human rights violations continue unabated. Freedom of movement and freedom to worship for example, remain but a dream to most Palestinians.
The Apartheid Wall seems especially grotesque at Christmastime.
My New Year's wish? That 2015 becomes the real year for Palestine. A free and peaceful Palestine. Without that stinking, racist wall of oppression.
It was a cold and dark evening in Vancouver. I decided to go for a walk by Jericho Beach anyhow. Unexpectedly, the wind picked up and I was magically whisked off to a strange and wonderful galaxy. Were they whirling snow flakes? A meteor shower? I believe I was strolling along the Milky Way.
For fifty days between July
7 and August 26, 2014, Israel viciously bombarded the Gaza Strip. This was the
third time Israel launched a massive military attack on Gaza in four years. By
the time the peace treaty was arrived at (since broken four times by Israel and
yet to be commented on in the mainstream media) at least 2,131 Palestinians
were killed in this massacre; 80% of casualties were civilians, including 501 children. Entire neighbourhoods were
108,000 people have been
left homeless as a result of thousands of destroyed homes, including the
deliberate downing of high-rise apartment buildings. Schools, hospitals, news-gathering agencies, UN facilities and places of worship were all purposefully
targeted and bombed. 1, 500 children have been orphaned. Not
surprisingly, the psychological toll on children who have witnessed such
unfathomable atrocities is huge. The UN Office of the Coordination of
Humanitarian Affaires estimates that 373,000 children require specialized
People in Vancouver, like
indeed in cities around the world, protested these war crimes in large numbers.
People of conscience were moved to action in face of the brutality, and demanded
both that Israel stop the savage attacks and that our own governments cease
enabling the assaults by providing, military, financial and diplomatic support
for the Israeli aggression.
While the full-scale
bombardment of Gaza may have now ended, the siege and blockade of Gaza remains
intact. Nearly half a million people remain displaced and the medical and
psychological healing is long-term; if not life-long. Moreover, the violence of
the ongoing occupation in the West Bank continues with Israeli troops
kidnapping children from their homes and unchecked settler violence traumatizes
Palestinians. Just last week, one thousand acres of Palestinian land were
stolen by Israeli authorities from Palestinian villages in the Bethlehem area
to create additional illegal, racist settlements; an aggressive move designed
to further block Palestinian self-determination.
The massacre and ongoing
siege of Gaza, along with the occupation and colonization of the West Bank - all facilitated by the Canadian Government's unconditional support of Israel, has reinforced the legitimacy of the global
Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) campaign. Moreover as Palestinian trade
unions issued an appeal to workers around the world to refuse to handle Israeli
goods, a small coalition of Vancouver Palestine Solidarity activists decided to
respond to the call by initiating an action targeting the Israeli shipping
corporation, ZIM. Their container ships regularly conduct business in the
Vancouver Area at Deltaport. Vancouver activists protested the arrival of ZIM ships four years ago and recently, the corporation had been picketted in
three US West coast ports. A small group of Palestine solidarity workers decided to communicate to the firm that
occupation profiteers are unwelcome in Vancouver and Block the Boat Vancouver was born.
From the onset, the group agreed
that this was a long-term project and that the initial phase was one of public
education. The plan was simply to have people standing by the side of the road with banners and handing out leaflets to workers
on their way to the docks. The hand-outs outlined the reality of life under siege and occupation, the relationship between the
corporation and the ongoing destruction of Palestine, and the role that civic society can play in ending oppression.
September 5th, a day prior to the morning at the port, five activists (and a dog)
gathered at the Tsawwassen ferry terminal (about 30 km south of Vancouver) to take a photograph with signs
directly in front of the ZIM Djibouti.
The ZIM Djibouti's cargo did not get unloaded in Vancouver.
The rabbi sounded the shofar, that ancient musical instrument made of a ram's horn. The minister rang the Tibetan prayer bell. Ancient spiritual tools employed to awaken our consciousness to a larger, more inclusive reality; one where we can perceive and appreciate the spark of Divinity that resides in all our hearts. We came together in a multi-faith gathering to reflect and pray for those who lost their lives in Gaza and Israel. 1, 962 people were killed in Gaza - of whom 80% were civilians. We thought of their beloved, who must endure the lasting trauma of this massive, evil violence. 67 also died in Israel - 64 of who were soldiers. For once and for all - can we stop calling this one-sided massacre a conflict. Or a war. Or self-defense. The sign I made for last week's demonstration said it quite plainly. "Want security? Lift the blockade. End the occupation. ( It's not rocket science.)"
I find it unbearable that our governments have directly and significantly contributed to this unfathomable pain, death and destruction. Their complicity has enabled Israel to unleash this sadistic military campaign with total impunity.
Tonight I thought of the Sanskrit greeting we say to one another in Nepal and India. Namaste. As Ram Dass explains it: "I honour that place in you where the entire universe resides. I honour the place of love, of light, of truth of peace." And the part that I love the most; for he captures the essence of a soul to soul encounter perfectly: "I honour the place within you, where if you are in that place in you, and I am in that place in me, there is only one of us."
Perhaps if we could all hold onto the perception that in a deep sense we really are our brother's keeper - then how could anyone harm anyone else? If we literally all are One Self, and murder is thus suicide, then a felt universal compassion would make it impossible for humans to engage in such atrocities. "When one is weeping, the whole world suffers too."
How much calmer it was to walk in this delicate landscape.
Poppies amidst fields of wheat in rural Slovenia.
Cycling across Vancouver's Burrard Bridge, I spot this fabulous
cormorant. We both take in the dazzling view. Coming from Granville
market, I wonder if he has any idea that my backpack is filled with his
favourite dish - fresh seafood.
Vancouver's Palestine Awareness Coalition has created a newspaper ad that aims to contribute to the vibrant Palestine solidarity momentum that is building in this City. To help mobilize the community to pressure Canada to end it's shameful support of Israeli war crimes, the ad offers answers to the question, "What can one do in response to the violent, illegal siege and occupation of Palestine?"
Dear pastry chef who learned how to make blueberry cheesecake online. It was so delicious. Thank you.
My dear college students, with who I debated long into the night smoking shisha and learning about the complexities of your local government.
Dear little girl with the thick glasses and priceless smile who asked me, "When will they bomb us again"?
Dear ladies in the field, who I will never forget as we harvested wheat together near the hated "no go zone".
Dear fisherman, remember you made me a cup of tea that we drank on the deck of your boat? How silent and foolish I was when you told me of your son's death at sea, and I just stared in silence. Killed not in a storm, but by the navy.
Dear school girls in starched white blouses. You recited your English phrases so proudly and so correctly.
Dear boys in your orange t-shirts. Remember how you showed off your hand-stands and breakdance moves as we played soccer at the UN school yard?
Dear taxi driver, perhaps you remember telling me that you wished the bomb landed on your cab, as "this is no life".
My dear documentary film-maker friend. Remember when you showed me the old gold market and we stopped to buy fruit? The vender smiled and gave us a cup of tea.
Dear teen-aged boy with the big gel-hair. Remember how you unlocked my mobile phone and set me up with local cellular reception in under five minutes?
Dear psychologist friend. Remember discussing the ongoing trauma of life under occupation when suddenly I spilled my tea and dropped my pastry at the sound of a fighter jet roaring by outside your window?
Dear student, remember when you approached me in the park and simply gave me a Handala button while thanking me just for coming?
Dear teachers, how long were those shifts?
Dear physician. Remember when we looked out at the sea and you asked me why can't we just walk silently sometimes.
Dear children. So many of you, who told me things that you should never have witnessed. Experiences so frightening, that I still sometimes wake up in the middle of the night. And yet you showed me your cat in the basket. And smiled.
Dear friends in Gaza. Please stay alive. Please don't lose hope. Know that while our governments remain cold and detached amidst your pain, much of the world cries with you. Palestine will be free. The occupation will stop. The siege will end. There is no other way. The human spirit demands it.
We are all sifting through powerful images, heartfelt personal accounts, and numerous articles about the horrible events unfolding in Palestine. It is easy to miss certain items that can't be allowed to slip out of awareness. I think this is one. If you haven't already seen this sickening election video put out by the Harper Government - at the very time that the Gaza crisis is intensifying, I am posting it here.
It is hard to imagine a more callous, morally depraved, self-serving exploitation of the suffering of others.
Israeli forces have now killed more then 650 Palestinians in Gaza. 170 of them are children. My sign at Saturday's demonstration indicated that 65 kids were killed. That's an additional mind-numbing, heartbreaking 105 more children killed in the past three days!
It is extremely disturbing that the Canadian Government feels it is OK to facilitate these unspeakable crimes and to cynically use this unfathomable crisis to try and further their political standing.
From the city of Ponta Delgada on São Miguel island - one of nine islands comprising the Portuguese archipelago, the Azores - it's a seventy-five minute bus ride to the hamlet of Sete Cidades and the start of the hike along the extinct volcano's crater edge.
It started to rain heavily the moment I disembarked from the bus. I decided to have a long, drawn-out coffee in hopes of favourable weather. The heavy rain did indeed subside and I set out on the 11 km hike amidst a gentle drizzle. Before long, the rain stopped, the clouds and fog began to dissipate, and the sight of two stunning crater lakes and the Atlantic Ocean blew me away.
Portugal is completely mad with World Cup football fever. In the little medieval town of Alcobaça however, one can easily be transported into a world far removed from this action. Stepping into the 12C monastery, it doesn't take long for one's awareness to be drawn within and into a more contemplative, timeless space.
The Budhist mantra, The Jewel Within the Lotus reflects the mystical union between the self and the cosmos. A representation of this interweave between nature and self is strongly felt at the astonishingly beautiful Bled Island, amidst Slovenia's Julian Alps. It's no wonder there has been a place of worship here since the 9th century. Deep ecology indeed.
The area surrounding the remote hamlet of Hrastovlje, Slovenia is locally well known as a truffle growing region. Enjoying a superb dish of handmade pasta in the setting sun, the atmosphere was suddenly altered by the shrill call of a stunning peacock.
The wind was howling and the tide was high as I went outside in search of the lunar eclipse the other night. An atavistic call to commune with the cosmos stirred within and I responded.
It was quite cloudy, so instead of seeing the blood red moon everyone was anticipating, it mysteriously drifted into a gauze- like mist. Suddenly and completely unexpectedly, a skinny coyote appeared on the shore and a troubled man cursed me out. I am not kidding. Beasts and humans alike could not resist this mighty celestial pull.
While the red moon may have ducked out of sight behind west coast clouds, I nevertheless had an extraordinary lunar, or was that - lunatic encounter.
Walking along the streets of Bethlehem, I am struck again by the obscene enormity of the Apartheid Wall. It is a huge embodiment of the human rights violations that characterize all aspects of life in Occupied Palestine. When I spotted this young woman's determined image on that hideous structure, I understood clearly that we cannot remain complacent until the Wall comes down and her freedom is no longer curtailed by this cruel anachronism.
Feeling that I would drown in the ocean of grief that surrounds me, I could no longer tolerate another dehumanizing, heart-wrenching, trauma-inducing scene, when in the streets of Haifa, I met an angel. The lady is a Holocaust survivor who demonstrates with Women in Black against the Occupation each Friday in front of the Baha'i Gardens. Thank you, Stella for telling me that what motivates you is to remind us all to stay human.
Mr. Harper is receiving his honorary doctorate from Tel Aviv University today. In what, I wonder - Comparative Colonial Studies? This farcical ceremony took place after a bird sanctuary was named after him. The birds may be protected and permitted to fly freely while the Palestinians are locked down in Gaza, forced into bantustans in the West Bank, and have their homes demolished in East Jerusalem.
He is serenading Mr. Netanyahu with the Beatles' "Hey Jude". Has this man any sense of the catastrophic conditions that traumatize Palestinians on a daily basis? Does he push human suffering aside in favour of trade deals and garnering votes back home?
In today's paper, Mr. Harper says his uncritical support of Israeli policy is backed by Canadians. "Our position is not an Israeli position or a Palestinian position. It is a Canadian position of principle supported by the overwhelming majority of Canadians". Really? He made these comments to Mr. Abbas. This kind of cynical, hostile attitude does nothing to build trust, and certainly does not bring us closer to seeing a just peace in the Middle East.
And, Mr. Harper - as a Canadian, I don't support your position.
In face of numerous apparent obstacles confronting the peace process, it seems to me that the pieces of the puzzle really fall into place rather simply. The oppressed justifiably resist the oppressor. Peace without justice and respect for human rights is farcical. Apartheid is a crime. Military occupation thwarts human dignity and the quest for self determination.