Who Can Own The Earth?

 How can we own our mother? Changing ownership to long-term leases would go a long way to solve homelessness and environmental problems.

          Photo by Charlie Deets on Unsplash

“Under capitalism, all land is seen as a warehouse of potential commodities to be sold to the highest bidder.” Robin Wall Kimmerer

Can a person own a piece of their mother? No? Then, how can we claim to own land? Land is Earth, the giver of all life. We didn’t create it; it created us.

Dictionary.com defines ownership as “The total body of rights to use and enjoy a property, to pass it on to someone else as an inheritance, or to convey it by sale.” They could have added the right to deny other people its use. How does anyone earn the right to exploit their creator and exclude others, no matter who the process harms?

Owners no doubt spent money for those rights, but whom did they pay? How did the seller gain ownership? They bought it from somebody else, who had bought it from somebody else, until you get back to the original owner, a conqueror or King who stole it from the Indians.

Land ownership is possession of stolen goods. When a landowner claims a right to log a forest, mine coal under the ground, or build a chemical plant, because they bought the land, they are confessing to a crime and planning new crimes.

Private property has its valuable sides. People who live on land they own may take better care of it than renters or visitors. But many absentee owners, especially corporate owners, take all they can from land and leave it suffering. When money becomes more valuable than land, we get the environmental destruction and injustice we see today, with many people having no place to live at all.

We need a new definition of ownership and a new relationship to land. Indigenous people didn’t own land; they revered it. Many countries have other ways of managing land. We’re not stuck with letting rich property owners destroy our world.

Rights vs. obligations

In America, we spend a lot of time talking about our rights. People talk about their right to carry weapons, to drive cars, to drill for oil on land they have bought, or to pave it over.

Native Americans are far more likely to talk about their obligations. Nuxalk hereditary chief Edward Moody said, “We must protect the forests for our children, grandchildren and children yet to be born. We must protect the forests for those who can’t speak for themselves: the birds, animals, fish and trees.”

If modern land owners, especially corporations, focused on obligations instead of rights, the Amazon jungle would not be burning. The forests of Indonesia would not be turned into coconut plantations. People living near chemical plants would not be dying of cancer.

How did private ownership of property arise?

How did the concept of ownership get applied to land? It started about 10,000 years ago, when small tribes were growing into kingdoms. The first people to say ‘This land belongs to me’ were kings. Ownership gradually trickled down to the nobility and in the last 400 years to the capitalist class and then to the middle class in rich countries.

Ownership of land and the right to pass it on to one’s descendants are pillars of patriarchy and class domination. In nearly all times and places, men have owned land and given it to their sons. Land inheritance gives recipients a huge advantage over landless people and women.

I’m not saying private possession of land is always bad. Farmers working their own land tend to work much harder and better than those who are working for the government. The Soviet Union and China both experienced famines when they collectivized privately-owned or community-owned land and turned the farmers into workers.

This upside of ownership, however, only applies when the owners live on the land and love it. When owned by corporations or profit-seeking individuals, land becomes a rape scene, with most of its native life driven out and its fertility worn away by industrial farming, development, or lumbering. This is why we need a new relationship to land. Instead of seeing it as a bunch of resources to exploit, we need to care for it.

How should land be managed?

Since large-scale collective ownership and unlimited private ownership have both caused catastrophe, how should we manage land? Indigenous people and many other countries have programs that work, but so far the power of money has blocked them here.

Writing on Aeon.com, researcher Antonia Malchik gives several examples. In China, all urban land and wilderness land is owned by the state, and all other rural land is owned by village peoples’ collectives and allocated for specific uses, according to Xinhua.net. Urban land is allocated by the state for specific purposes or sold by granting leases to individuals or private bodies.

In Nigeria, people can’t own land. Instead they apply for a lease to use the land and get a certificate of occupancy, which may be for a few years or much longer. If people break the regulations set out in the lease, it can be revoked and the land re-appropriated by the state.

Scotland allows people to own their homes and farms, but not to exclude other people from them. You can still hike on their land and forage for food in the woods. The USA used to have such laws. Hunting on another’s unenclosed land was perfectly legal.

Russian peasants had the mir or ‘joint responsibility’ system, which ensured that everyone in a rural community had land and resources enough — including tools — to support themselves and their families. “Strips of land were broken up and redistributed every so often to reflect changing family needs,” Malchik writes. “Land belonged to the mir as a whole. It couldn’t be taken away or sold.”

One of Malchik’s Australian readers commented, “Here, my privately-owned five acres is heavily restricted. I can plant as many trees as I like, but I cannot cut down a tree without local government permission.”

A New and Ancient Attitude Toward Land

The economy of the USA is built on private ownership of homes. According to the Census Bureau, 65% of Americans own their homes. Taking home ownership away would devastate millions.

But as in the countries described above, redefining ownership as a very long-term lease with clear and restrictive terms would help everyone. You’ve got it as long as you take good care of it and don’t hurt anybody else.  These systems work better when they are local, when people know each other and the land.

Leased land and homes would not revert to banks in a financial crisis. Government at some level would take them over, because companies would only be entitled to property if they lived on it or were working to make it better. Use it or lose it. Under these rules, government could keep economically distressed people in their homes and bring homeless people to vacant homes.

Bottom line is we need to follow indigenous attitudes to land. Lakota leader Mary Brave Bird said, “The land is sacred. The land is our mother, the rivers our blood.” We have to revere land; it gives us life. It’s not ours to own, buy or sell, but it is our responsibility to care for it.

Watch this video for more on indigenous approaches to land..

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They Want Us to Work for Nothing

               So we’ll have to work for ourselves

       Farm Workers in Sierra Leone Photo by Annie Spratt on Unsplash

From the plantations to the mines

Was this refusal to pay workers a uniquely racist thing, or is it common in class relations? Skin color obviously had a lot to do with it, but books I’ve read recently document how brutal exploitation of all workers is normal.

Why it’s called wage slavery

Workers have made some progress since those days. We are not slaves or sharecroppers. But for many workers, once their shift starts, they are driven as mercilessly as slaves. This is where the term “wage slave” comes from; workers are free to quit but have no rights while on the job.

A sick relationship

Is there something in human minds that makes employers despise or discount those who work for them? Or is the cause an economic system that forces capitalists to drive the most production from workers for the lowest cost? It might be both.

Ways out of worker abuse

Worker-owned cooperatives run businesses all over the world. Workers are expected to participate in structuring their own job and participate in democratically deciding what the company does. A few have become quite large. We can all support non-corporate economics by buying from cooperatives. In most areas, community-supported agriculture (CSA) cooperatives will deliver food to you and save you shopping.

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Gratitude Can Change the World

It’s called reciprocity.  Here’s how it’s done.

Gratitude is the rock star of emotions. Over 2,000 years ago, Marcus Tullius Cicero wrote, “Gratitude is not only the greatest of virtues. It is the parent of all the others.” Being grateful reduces stress. It makes us happy and fun to be around. If our gratitude stops at giving thanks, though, it won’t last. We have to give back, to live in what Native American botanist Robin Wall Kimmerer calls reciprocity.

“Through reciprocity the gift is replenished,” says Kimmerer. When Europeans arrived in 17th Century America, they were astonished at the richness of the life they found here. They attributed the bounty to God, and Nature certainly was the first source. But the indigenous people’s stewardship of the land had a lot to do with it. They found ways of harvesting plants that caused them to grow back stronger, ways to hunt and fish that increased animal populations. They took from the land, but they didn’t take too much, and they gave back to it.

“Reciprocity means keeping the gift in motion through self-perpetuating cycles of giving and receiving,” says Kimmerer. “All flourishing is mutual.” This is a deep lesson. In my experience, embracing the idea of reciprocity changes the way we see the world. Life is not about getting and holding; it’s a constant flow in which we take part.

“All flourishing is mutual.” — Robin Wall Kimmerer

To live with reciprocity moves us to find our gift and give it. It means taking what is offered with gratitude, not being greedy. It means personal growth that benefits the world, not “improving our solitary selves, so that we achieve our own personal goals, with no real thought about the fallout,” as essayist Jessica Wildfire describes most self-help writers.

Reciprocity is revolutionary

You might notice that reciprocity is the opposite of how our economic structure pushes us to behave. Capitalist economics assumes we are all individuals motivated above all by material self-interest . In capitalist societies, money equals power, so such societies tend to devolve into rule by the greediest, as we can see in the USA today. Imagine instead a society where reciprocity, not greed, was the operating principle.

Dr. Kimmerer says spreading gratitude is a revolutionary idea. “In a consumer society, contentment is a radical proposition. Recognizing abundance rather than scarcity undermines an economy that thrives by creating unmet desires… Gratitude doesn’t send you out shopping to find satisfaction; it comes as a gift, subverting the foundation of the whole economy.” Gratitude is bad for business, but it’s good for people and crucial for a planet being eaten by excessive consumption.

Canadian writer JB McKinnon, author of The Day The World Stops Shopping says “Consumption — of fast fashion, flights, Black Friday-discounted gadgets — has become the primary driver of ecological crisis… When people buy less stuff, you get immediate drops in emissions, resource consumption and pollution, unlike anything we’ve achieved with green technology. That’s not to mention the impact materialism has on our mental health, inducing feelings of inadequacy and envy, and encouraging a culture of overworking.” We are so much happier when we live in gratitude, and the world is so much better off when we live in reciprocity.

“Consumption — of fast fashion, flights, Black Friday-discounted gadgets — has become the primary driver of ecological crisis.” -J.B. McKinnon

Doing gratitude right

When I was a child, it seemed like everyone gave a brief prayer of thanks before eating. “Saying grace” usually meant saying ‘Thank you, God’ and digging in, but is an impersonal God really the only one to thank? What about all the animals, the plants, the insects, the sun, the moon, the people who grow food and bring it to us? What about water, without which life cannot exist? What about thanking all them, especially the ones who gave their lives to feed us?

Dr. Kimmerer describes the Haudenosaunee (Iroquois) Confederacy Thanksgiving Address. This address is traditionally spoken at public meetings and may go on for half an hour. “When you say the Thanksgiving Address,” says Kimmerer, you realize all you have been given, and it becomes impossible to feel deprived.” It helps people come together to face the issues they confront daily.

In my life, I find that I have to give frequent thanks if I want to stay sane. But I notice that giving verbal thank yous, or a prayer or a Thanksgiving Address doesn’t make me feel much better, if people keep suffering and the world keeps getting more desperate. I have to move beyond thanksgiving if I am to live in reciprocity with Nature’s gifts.

Swiss philosopher Henri Feredric Amiel wrote, “Thankfulness may consist merely of words. Gratitude is shown in acts.” For our own well-being and to move the world in positive directions, we must turn gratitude into action.

“Thankfulness may consist merely of words. Gratitude is shown in acts.” Henri-Frederic Amiel

Turning gratitude into action

When people do good things for you, how do you pay them back? Thanking them is good; let them know how their actions have helped you. Doing things for them in return is a form of reciprocity. If you are disabled and can’t do much, as I sometimes am, you can repay them by listening. You can advocate for them; you can teach them and let them teach you. You can give gifts, or you can send the gift forward to other people and living things.

How does one reciprocate with animals and plants? They might not understand ‘Thank you,’ but one can care for them, create healthy spaces for them, whether they’re pets or wild. Pay attention to them; love them. The gardeners among you know better than I do how to give back to plants. I just know gardening is hard work that brings pleasure to a lot of people.

Protecting wild things enables them to keep giving back to us. Get involved in restoring habitats and ecosystems. Community gardens feed people and give living spaces to plants, insects and birds. If we can’t do physical restoration, we can give political support to those who can, or we can donate.

Reciprocity applies to the way we treat other people, too. Don’t use them up; don’t hold them back. Listen to them; build them up, and they’ll give back to you.

Gratitude for Mother Earth

Giving back to Earth doesn’t mean living in poverty; it means treating all of Nature as family. Indigenous Americans of the lake regions harvest wild rice but make sure to leave enough to re-grow for next year and to feed the animals who need it too. Their rules include never taking more than half of the plants or animals, and only to take what Nature offers freely. So, using oil that bubbles up from the ground or a gusher would be OK, but fracking with explosives for shale oil would not be. Cutting a few trees you need for a house is a thing, clear-cutting a forest is not.

Reciprocity with living things would mean big changes in agriculture and the use of chemicals. If people saw the factory farms and the chemical plants and talked to the people who live near them and work in them, there would be a lot more vegetarians and organic eaters, and a lot fewer users of industrial chemicals.

When we realize we depend on Nature to keep us alive year after year, as indigenous people do, says Kimmerer, you will treat it as well as you can, give back freely to increase the gift. Capitalist science has confused us into believing that we do not depend on Nature; we depend on technology and money. But we can’t eat money. We still depend on Nature, even if our electronic cocoons obscure that dependence. We must take care of Nature and each other the way she takes care of us.

That’s reciprocity, and it will make us happier and healthier.

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Partner – Sharing: Sex without the patriarchy

        Photo by Dim Hou on Unsplash

Sex at Dawn

One reason for this fantasy and practice might be that partner sharing is a natural, healthy part of human sexuality. If modern, patriarchal, monogamous pairing is not how humans evolved to mate, we probably won’t be happy living that way.

Female sexual openness: the evidence

Ryan and Jetha provide chapters full of evidence to support the claim of multi-partner pairing in humans. Behaviorally, we see the well-known inability of most heterosexuals to be satisfied with monogamous relationships. Many of us are sneaking around or regretting that we can’t.

Why is sharing hot?

Even though partner-sharing has demonstrated social benefits, why is it an erotic fantasy? Why is it hot, and what do cuckolds get out of it? Writing on HealthLine, Adrienne Santos-Longhurst cites research “suggesting that watching your partner with another man prompts a biological response to have longer and more vigorous sex.” It’s a turn-on because it drives a man to compete.

Why isn’t partner-sharing more common?

If Ryan and Jetha are right, and monogamy is not natural for humans, why is it so dominant in modern cultures? It seems we can’t do what we evolved to do because our social structures don’t allow it.

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Palestinian Scholars Fight Tech Censorship

     Prof. Rabab Abdulhadi in Cuba Image: Mondoweiss.net with permission

Pushed by repressive governments, Big Tech and the Israel lobby are suppressing freedom of speech and academic freedom. As often happens, attacks on Palestinian rights are the sharp edge of the wedge undermining everyone’s rights. Palestinian academics and supporters are fighting this censorship and asking for your help.

The Israel-identified community, with its legal arms such as The Lawfare Project, political arms like the American Israeli Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC,) and dozens of others, have suppressed pro-Palestinian voices for years. Now, in the era of online learning, hot war in Israel/Palestine, and COVID shutdowns, they are moving to de-platform Palestine completely.

“From posts incorrectly flagged by Facebook as incitement to violence,” wrote Jillian C. York and David Greene of the Electronic Frontier Foundation, “to financial censorship of relief payments made on Venmo, and the removal of Instagram Stories (which also heavily affected activists in Colombia, Canada, and Brazil), Palestinians are experiencing an unprecedented level of censorship [Read this article later! – DS] during a time where digital communications are absolutely critical.”

Ameer Al-Khatahtbeh, who runs a magazine for millennials called Muslim, says he has documented 12,000 acts of censorship on Instagram alone in the past several weeks. The censorship is especially heavy on campuses.

In September 2020, the Arab and Muslim Ethnicities and Diasporas (AMED) program at San Francisco State University (SFSU) planned an online classroom called “Whose Narratives? Gender, Justice, and Resistance,” to be hosted on Zoom. The program, including speakers and audience from three continents, was organized by AMED professor Dr. Rabab Abdulhadi and Women’s and Gender Studies professor Dr. Tomomi Kinukawa. One of the featured speakers was to be Leila Khaled of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP).

       Poster for canceled April webinar

The inclusion of Khaled, who hijacked two planes in 1969–70 to fight against Israel’s takeover of Palestine, drove the Israel Lobby into a state of fury. As documented on the Mondoweiss web site, “The event was protested by a number of right-wing, pro-Israel groups. The Act.IL app, largely funded by the Israeli government, drove hundreds, perhaps thousands of users to write and call the California State University directors, warning them of consequences for supporting “terrorists” such as Khaled.

Zoom canceled the program, a for-credit college class, without the school’s public consent (though Dr. Abdulhadi thinks they may have agreed privately.) The organizers moved the program to Facebook where it was also blocked, then to YouTube, only to have the same kind of pressure from Israel-identified opponents shut down the live feed 20 minutes after it started.

In April 2021, Drs. Abdulhadi and Kinukawa sponsored another Whose Narratives, inviting Khaled, now 77 years old. Once more, Israel’s advocates got Zoom to cancel the program, but this time they went further. They convinced Facebook to shut down AMED’s page, making it more difficult for AMED faculty to communicate with the public or even with their own students. They have also pressured SFSU administration to cut back AMED classes. As of now, two AMED summer courses are on hold because of lack of access to a platform.

         Summer class without a platform

Under criticism for blocking academic freedom, Zoom in April 2021 trumpeted a new approach to online instruction, transferring decision-making power to universities. But it reserved exceptions for cases where “Zoom determines that there is legal or regulatory risk to Zoom if it does not act.” The Israel Lobby’s attacks on Khaled repeatedly called her a terrorist, a label which conceivably could lead to legal problems for anyone giving her a platform, though such problems have never materialized in practice.

Despite widespread condemnation from academic groups including the journal Academe, the California Faculty Association, the Professional Staff Congress of the City University of New York (PSC-CUNY,) and others, Zoom refused to reverse its censorship decision. In response, UCLA English professor Saree Makdisi tweeted, “This is what happens when we subcontract our universities to Zoom: they decide which events are acceptable and which aren’t. It’s outrageous.”

Censoring Palestine on Facebook

After Zoom deplatformed the April panel with Khaled, Facebook shut down the AMED program’s FB page without prior notice, taking down years’ worth of documents. They have so far refused to reinstate the page.

Tech giants, especially Facebook, seem heavily influenced by Israel and its Lobby. In May 2020, Facebook hired Emi Palmor, former Director General of the Ministry of Justice of the State of Israel, as a member of their Oversight Board, a committee that makes content moderation decisions on Facebook.

According to the Association for Progressive Communication, “During Palmor’s time at the Ministry of Justice (2014–2019), the Ministry established the Israeli Cyber Unit, or ‘Internet Referral Unit,’ whose work has deliberately targeted and resulted in the takedowns of tens of thousands of Palestinians’ content, and imposed severe limitations on freedom of expression and opinion, especially about Palestine.” According to the 7amleh Arab Center for Social Media Advancement, Facebook complied with 81 percent of Israel’s requests.

Jewish Voice for Peace (JVP,) an organization which co-sponsored the September AMED event and which advocates for Palestinian rights, released a statement and a petition calling on FB to restore the AMED page immediately. They wrote, “ Jewish Voice for Peace chapters across the country planned to live-stream the Whose Narratives event. When the event was canceled without notice, we were informed that these chapter pages were now at risk of being blocked from Facebook.”

JVP Director of Special Projects Tallie Ben-Daniel wrote, “The AMED page provides vital, intersectional programming on the connections between the Palestinian struggle and other liberation movements across the globe. Facebook is depriving students, scholars, organizers and community members of access to irreplaceable material and programming. By erasing the AMED Studies page, Facebook is assuming a vast power that all conscientious users must reject: the power to ban university academic programs from their platform, especially those that center on justice for Palestine.”

Please consider signing and sharing their petition.

Tell Facebook to restore the AMED page immediately!

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Israel Promotes Anti-Semitism

To defend themselves and throw the rest of us under the bus

                Photo by Florian Olivo on Unsplash

Facing world anger over their violence in Gaza and Jerusalem, the Israeli government counter-attacked. They accused their critics and all supporters of Palestine of being Jew-hating anti-Semites.  By claiming their political and humanitarian critics are anti-Semitic, they normalize anti-Semitism in the West and seem happy to do it.

As Palestinian-American scholar Steven Salaita tweeted during a 2014 massacre in Gaza, if calling out murder of children is anti-Semitic, what other choice does a person of conscience have? Israel’s false Jew-hatred claims harm Arabs, Jews, and all who work for peace and justice. They expose Jews in the West to attack from real, right-wing anti-Semites like Robert Bowers, who killed 11 Jews at the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh in 2018.

I am one of those supporters of Palestinian freedom. If I weren’t Jewish myself, Israel-identified Jews (often called Zionists) would call me anti-Semitic. As it is, they call me self-hating. I don’t hate myself, but then, I’m not the one committing daily crimes against humanity.

When their 11 days of bombing Gaza stopped because of worldwide pressure, Israel started wide-scale arrests of Palestinian civilians and breaking up Palestinian neighborhoods. Their nominally civilian “settlers” continued burning Arabs’ olive trees and assaulting Palestinians in the street. Lebanese journalist Laith Marouf reported that over 1400 Palestinians had been arrested as of May 27, 2021. Residents of the Sheikh Jarrah and Silwan neighborhoods were arrested, with their homes slated for demolition or being given to Jewish settlers.

At the same time, the Israel Lobby launched a scare campaign about a supposed upsurge of attacks on Jews, mostly blaming Palestinians. American political and media figures rushed to speak out against these supposed “hate crimes.” But is this upsurge really happening, or is it a distraction to take our eyes off of Israel’s crimes? Is opposition to Israel, no matter how militant, really anti-Semitic?

Israel calls itself the Jewish state and privileges Jews above all other groups, especially the indigenous Palestinians. They use this self-proclaimed representation of Jews to claim that anyone who attacks their state is attacking Jews. They tell critics, ‘Everyone else has a homeland. We should have one, too.  If you disagree, you must hate us.’

From Israel’s founding in 1948, American Jews like my parents have been told to ‘make aliyah,’ meaning move to Israel. Most didn’t go, but many supported Israel financially and lobbied for them politically. Israel-identified Jews have built the most powerful lobby in the country, and their army of volunteers and large donors has gained a great deal of control of Congress. Very few politicians, even progressive heroes, will speak openly against Israel. Those who do, such as Rep.Cynthia McKinney of Georgia, Earl Hilliard of Alabama, and Paul Findley of Illinois often see their careers cut short by Israel Lobby funding and volunteering for opponents and loud attacks in the media.

Israel’s rulers do not represent or even care about Jews in other countries. They support right wing, anti-Semitic governments in Hungary and Ukraine. They work closely with Christian Zionists who believe Jews are inferior. Most damaging to us, Zionists normalize anti-Semitism. When Israel says of every action and every publication that attacks Israel: ‘If you don’t like us, you don’t like Jews,’ some will respond, ‘’OK then. Maybe we don’t.’

The Israel Lobby deliberately plays into the hands of the real, far-right anti-Semites such as Bowers. If Jews are scared to live in the West, they will be more likely to move to Israel, or at least to give financial and political support. Promoting anti-Semitism has been the Zionists’ game plan since the founding of modern Zionism in 19th Century Europe.

Zionist founder Theodore Herzl of Austria wrote in his Diaries that, “The anti-Semites will become our most dependable friends, the anti-Semitic countries our allies.” According to British investigative journalist Asa Winstanley, for the next 70 years, Zionists collaborated with anti-Semites to worsen conditions for European Jews. When Nazis passed the Nuremberg Laws of 1935, stripping Jews of German citizenship, the Zionist Federation of Germany was the only Jewish group that supported them.

Zionism itself incorporates a deep, internalized hatred of Judaism and Jewish culture. Herzl wrote in his book Der Judenstaat, that it “was Jews, not their Christian enemies, who cause anti-Semitism” and that “where it does not exist, [anti-Semitism] is carried by Jews in the course of their migrations.”

Israel’s government and supporters like to portray their conflict with Palestinians as a 2500 year old religious struggle, but it is actually a 20th Century land grab by Europeans who happen to be Jewish. Most Israeli leaders are atheists; the Biblical story of Moses is only an excuse for them. Israeli historian Ilan Pappé wrote, “Most Zionists do not believe in God, but they do believe He promised them Palestine.”

“Most Zionists do not believe in God, but they do believe He promised them Palestine.” Israeli Historian Ilan Pappe

Though not based on religion, Israel is an ethnostate. Jews there live by very different rules than indigenous Palestinians. People whose families have lived in Palestine for centuries cannot return, while Jews from Brooklyn with no family in Israel will be welcomed there with open arms. As former South African victims of apartheid Desmond Tutu and Nelson Mandela have said for years, Israel is even more discriminatory than apartheid South Africa was. Human Rights Watch, a generally pro-American NGO, recently declared Israel an apartheid state.

In response, four Jewish members of Congress wrote President Biden that charges of Israeli apartheid were “anti-Semitic to their core,” while giving absolutely no evidence that the charges were wrong. When the New York Times published pictures of 62 Palestinian children killed by Israeli bombs, giving their names, career anti-Semitism watchdog Abe Foxman of the Anti-Defamation League called it a “blood libel,” referencing the historic lie that Jews killed Christian babies and drank their blood.

Was Foxman over-the-top in comparing a truthful, compassionate naming of victims to the most vicious of anti-Semitic lies? It’s hard to find a more blatant example of using anti-Semitism charges as a weapon. As Australian journalist Caitlin Johnstone wrote, “If you consider anti-Zionism to be anti-Semitism, you cannot be surprised when anti-Semitism seems to increase after Israel bombs babies.”

Is anti-Semitism rising?

Have incidences of anti-Semitism increased significantly during the destruction of Gaza? Or, as Johnstone says, are these claims an attempt by Israel to “reassert narrative control”? According to an analysis published in The Grayzone, the reported cases of attacks on Jews have often been Palestinians’ defending themselves from Jewish attackers, who turned their cameras on when the Palestinians fought back.

A scholarly article by Mari Cohen, called “A Closer Look at the Uptick in anti-Semitism” in the journal Jewish Currents, found that “the reported ‘upsurge’ of anti-Semitism included angry tweets, explicitly anti-Israel signs, peaceful demonstrations for Palestine, and graffiti both anti-Zionist and anti-Jewish.” There is no upsurge of violence against Jews, but claims of rising anti-Semitism have now replaced criticism of Israel’s bombings as the trending topic among corporate media and politicians. That is the narrative control the Israel Lobby seeks.

We need to clarify this imposed confusion. Jews have been traumatized for centuries by violent Jew-hatred, peaking in Hitler’s attempt to kill us all. So, it’s not hard to manipulate Jews with fear or non-Jews with guilt over anti-Semitism. We can’t ignore it, but defending Israel is not protecting Jews or anyone else. Aiding Israel contributes to imperial domination, endless war, and shifting the whole world far to the Right.

In the 21st Century, anti-Semitism in the USA and Europe is very real, but it does not come from Arabs or from people who support Palestine or who fight Israeli crimes. Why are charges of Jew-hatred only raised against progressives who oppose Israeli apartheid?

As I have written here and here, Israel and the USA are intimately connected in trying to dominate the world. This is not something the majority of the world’s Jews want. It is not anti-Semitic to oppose Israel, but it is anti-Semitic to consider all Jews as supporters of Israel and Zionism.

If you’re interested in learning more about this issue, here are a couple of sources:

Israeli historian Miko Peled http://www.thehypertexts.com/Miko%20Peled%20Quotes%20Articles%20Essays.htm

www.Mondoweiss.net www.ElectronicIntifada.net

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Being Brilliant Doesn’t Mean You’re Right

(Photo by Adam Nowakowski on Unsplash)

Brilliant ideas can change things, but not always for the better. Consider the 1970s pushback against economic growth.  In 1968 Paul and Anne Ehrlich had published The Population Bomb, warning against the effects of too many people.  In 1972, a group of scholars and leaders called the Club of Rome published Limits to Growth, predicting disaster if industrial capitalism kept growing. Resources would be exhausted, causing economic and environmental catastrophes. Their theories were covered in the media and widely believed.

The capitalist class was not happy. If people stopped believing that growth was good, they might slow their buying. Governments might limit production and consumption. Profits would drop. Since capitalism depends on growth and profits to pay back investors, living within ecological limits could collapse the whole system.

Then a brilliant economist named Julian Simon came to the rescue. In a series of articles and his book The Ultimate Resource, he declared that resource exhaustion would never become a problem. Individual resources might run out, but human intelligence (the ultimate resource,) would always find ways to compensate for shortages and for pollution.

While some products might become unavailable, he said, and some aspects of Nature might suffer, the overall human standard of living would continue to increase. Simon said human overpopulation was not a problem, because more humans meant more intelligent minds, leading to ever-better solutions. He called his approach Growth Theory.

Whatever you think of Growth Theory, it was brilliant.  It went against the intellectual trend of the times, and Simon was not some huge-name economist who could bully people into agreeing. In 1980, in response to criticism from Paul Ehrlich, he offered a bet. Ehrlich could pick five natural resources he thought were scarce. Simon bet $10,000 that in 10 years’ time, their prices would be lower, not higher as one would expect if they were running out.

Ehrlich chose copper and four other industrial metals as the scarce resources. Simon won the bet. As prices of the metals started to rise, people started recycling them, and users found other materials to take their place. Demand for the metals dropped, and their prices in 1990 were lower than in 1980. Limits to growth didn’t exist! Capitalism was saved! Great work, Professor Simon!

Except, brilliant as he and his theory were, Simon was wrong. We can see the devastating damage caused by unlimited growth wherever we look. While he was right that industrial processes could be improved, and new resources could be swapped in for those that were exhausted, such adaptability did not apply to energy or water, or to the capacity of land, rivers, oceans, and atmosphere to absorb industrial waste. Those capacities, absolutely basic to the existence of life on Earth, remain limited.

Some natural resources are renewable, but the most important ones aren’t. You can’t burn a lump of coal twice. Polluted water can’t be drunk and fish can’t live in it. Technology can compensate to a degree with nuclear, solar, and wind power and by desalinating ocean water, but not nearly enough to make up for the massive amounts of fresh water and fossil fuels Nature gives us for free, and which economic growth so casually destroys. Not to say all is lost – though some scientists make that argument – but unlimited growth has put the world in a terrible crisis.

Brilliance caused the Great Recession

Such bad outcomes often result from the ideas of brilliant people, most dramatically in economics. Around the turn of the 21st century, some powerful minds created derivative investments, such as collateralized debt obligations (CDOs) and credit default swaps (CDS.)

CDOs allow rich people to buy up less-rich people’s debts as an investment. These debts are usually mortgages or credit card debts, but any kind of debt can be packaged in a CDO. The bank that originally lent the money no longer needs their loan repaid; they have already been repaid by the CDO buyer.

As with Growth Theory, CDOs were brilliant. Some were so complicated that neither buyers nor sellers understood them. They had to rely on whiz-kid consultants for advice. For customers, instead of having to convince a bank that they could pay off their mortgage, they could now borrow from some investor who didn’t know anything about them or the property and didn’t much care. Millions more people were able to buy houses, improve the ones they had, or borrow money for other needs, using their homes as collateral.

Since lenders weren’t going to keep the mortgages they created, they started lending to people who never could have bought a house before. “A ham sandwich could buy a home now,” said one mortgage broker, “if the sandwich had a job.”

It was all very Simon-esque. Growth forever! Big investment firms bought lots of CDOs, often protecting them with credit default swaps, which are essentially insurance against CDO failure. If the mortgages and other debts packaged in the CDOs were not repaid, those who bought the Swaps would have to pay instead. As long as real estate prices kept rising and borrowers could repay their mortgages, CDOs kept their value, CDS owners kept the money they had been paid to insure the CDOs, and everyone was happy.

Around 2006, the bubble burst. When home prices stopped soaring, big investors stopped buying CDOs. Easy mortgages became less available, so fewer people could buy, and real estate prices dropped faster.  People started defaulting on their mortgages, so CDOs lost their value. Large investment firms like Lehman Brothers collapsed, and many more would have failed without massive bailouts. Millions of people lost their homes.

The market collapse took trillions of dollars out of the economy, causing the Great Recession of 2007, in which we still live. Only the Federal Reserve’s endlessly funneling money to Wall Street keeps the markets afloat, while most people become poorer year by year.

How to Evaluate Brilliant Ideas

The trouble with brilliance is that the beauty of an idea can sweep people along into ignoring the downsides. Brilliant ideas that serve the rich and powerful are especially dangerous, and most likely to be uncritically promoted by corporate media and politicians. Still, they might be right. How do we know?

  • Sometimes, common sense is wrong, but it’s a good place to start. When an idea seems too good to be true, it probably is. If an idea doesn’t make sense, it’s probably wrong, if not an outright lie.

● Think long-term. Simon won his ten-year bet on growth, but British investment scholar Jeremy Grantham says that over a longer period, he would have lost badly.  Indigenous people such as the Iroquois (Haudenosaunee) Nation, near the North American Great Lakes, wrote, “In our every deliberation, we must consider the impact of our decisions on the next seven generations.” For people raised in the fast-changing world of capitalist science, thinking seven generations ahead will be like trying to see the dark side of a distant planet. But we can practice, learn, and get better at it.

  • Consider all stakeholders. Who pays the costs, and who receives the benefits? Engineers might come up with brilliant chemical treatments to get gold from land in a rainforest. A mining company might correctly calculate that they can make $1 billion from the gold, while only having to pay a few million in bribes to government officials or salaries to militias to secure the land. The Native people who live near the mine may lose their homes, their health, or their lives, but what is the cost of that? The mining company won’t pay it. If everyone’s outcomes are not given equal weight, a cost-benefit analysis is meaningless.
  • Consider people as they are, not as we would like them to be. In my opinion, CDOs would have worked fine, if lenders and borrowers, sellers and buyers were all smart and honest. But some people will always try to game the system or do stupid things for short-term benefits.
  • Morality – As with the example of the mines, we need to think about if an idea is moral. What would Jesus or Buddha think of this idea? If a plan hurts other living things, it’s not as brilliant as it looks.

Stay open. In spite of the need for caution, some ideas really are brilliant. We need radical thinking to get out of the mess that past great thinkers have gotten into us.  I say: be skeptical but also open to new things.

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Make Your Life a Perfect Fit: Bigger is not always better

Photo by Andreea Pop on Unsplash

How big should your life be? Do you want to travel, do great things, be famous, learn all you can, become friends with fascinating people, get rich? That sounds like a lot of work, but shouldn’t we maximize the talents and opportunities we are given? Maybe we should follow the US Army’s recruitment slogan advice to “Be all you can be.”

For myself, I would be highly skeptical of life advice given by the world’s biggest killing machine. They might not have our best interests at heart. Neither do the advertisers beckoning us to buy, consume, or travel our way to happiness. Marketers know that selling things requires making customers feel their lives are incomplete without the advertised product.

Trying for all you can be has become an accepted goal in our culture. Religious blogger Lauren Hunter says it’s a lie that hurts people, particularly women. “We’re taught to aspire to achieve all that we can,” she writes, “even to the point of driving ourselves into the ground.”

Eli Finkel, author of The All or Nothing Marriage, writes that this striving for more has screwed up a lot of modern marriages. Finkel told interviewer Olga Khazan, “On top of the expectation that we’re going to love and cherish our spouse, we’ve added the expectation that our spouse will help us grow, help us become a better, more authentic version of ourselves. Those two goals are often incompatible.” How can you help people change, he asks without conveying dissatisfaction with the way they are?

Finkel’s solution is for partners to get their life coaching outside the marriage, but why do people need to do it all? I think of people like Donald Trump and Bill Clinton. Those two have certainly lived large, but have they made the world better? Have they been happy? They don’t look it. Would they and the rest of us have been better off if they didn’t take up so much space?

One can be unbalanced on the small side, too, like my 75-year-old neighbor Jack  might be. He had been a small town district attorney, but 35 years ago he moved to San Francisco to take care of his mother Elise. At that point, Elise didn’t need much care, but now that she is 107, Jack needs to be there almost constantly.  It’s just the two of them in a two bedroom apartment. His life has pretty much come down to YouTube and Elise.

Neighbors, family, and would-be girlfriends sometimes tell Jack that he has mistakenly given up his own life to care for Elise. He disagrees. He says his love for his mother is all the love he needs and that he constantly grows spiritually because of his living situation.

Other people – I am one of them — struggle with trying to be big and small at the same time.  I was a smart child and a good writer. Excelling at school was easy for me; my parents kept telling me I could do whatever I wanted. They also shared their own do-gooder values, which I interpreted as ‘saving the world.’ From this history, I wound up thinking I could influence the world with my writing, and that I wouldn’t have to work too hard to do it.

As a result, my writing suffers from trying to cover too much ground and teach too much, and it’s not focused enough to capture a big audience.  At the same time, I haven’t spent the long hours writing and marketing that it takes to build a platform for my work. So I remain a small niche market.

We can’t do it all

The world gives infinite choices.  Some of us may have multiple talents and few barriers, but we still have to choose what and how much to go for. Whatever the military recruiters and advertisers say, we can’t “be all we can be.” We can go crazy trying. The key is to find the things that are right for us.

In her amazing book Braiding Sweetgrass, Native American botanist Robin Wall Kimmerer PhD writes about how three plants, corn, beans, and squash (called the “three sisters”) work together to optimize their growth and health. The corn grows tall, and the beans climb up the stalks. The squash with its big leaves protect both from weeds and insects, and the beans fix nitrogen from the air into the soil for all to use. None of them could do as well alone.

Human analogs of the Three Sisters are everywhere. On a basketball team, not everyone can be a high-scoring star. They need defenders, passers, rebounders, coaches, trainers. In a band, not everyone can be the lead singer; they need backup singers and musicians. So, you don’t need to be the star to help create, to enjoy life, or to get paid.

We don’t have to be bigger than we are, or smaller either. If we have the talent, energy, and dedication to be a star, we shouldn’t hold ourselves back. Dr. Kimmerer wouldn’t have been able to write her books and share her wisdom if she hadn’t gone back to school for a masters’ and doctorate in plant ecology. Basketball star Steph Curry wouldn’t be such a great player if he hadn’t practiced thousands of hours year after year. They followed their paths because they loved them, and probably gave up many other possibilities to focus on them.

The artist Pablo Picasso said, “The meaning of life is to find your gift. The purpose of life is to give it away.” Both finding and giving our gifts might be a lot of work and might not look big at all. Physicist Albert Einstein lived a pretty big life and changed the world with his Theory of Relativity, but he credited for his success, “the monotony and solitude of a quiet life,” which “stimulates the creative mind.” His version of a big life didn’t include living large.

Other cultures have long promoted this balanced view. Chinese sage Lao-Tse, founder of Taoism, wrote

Great acts are made up of small deeds.
So the wise soul does not attempt anything big,
And thus achieves greatness.

(Tao Te Ching Ch. 63)

Monks and nuns and other spiritual seekers usually choose smaller lives. if one’s priority is seeking God or enlightenment, one doesn’t want too much distraction. Some of these people become saints. Going small is an expected change for old people in Hinduism, to gain wisdom and give back to the community. They are expected to meditate more and withdraw from social entanglements, allowing for a focus on love, connection, and spirit.

Hinduism is clear that the best size of life changes with time. Different life situations might also call on us to adjust how we measure and live our lives. Probably, the COVID pandemic shutdowns caused most of us to adjust how large we expected to live.

Not always your choice

We don’t always get to choose our life size. Some people live big lives thrust on them against their will. Reading biographies of Rev. Dr.  Martin Luther King Jr, he didn’t set out to lead a tremendous civil rights movement, win the Nobel Peace Prize at age 35 and be assassinated by the FBI at age 39. He trained to be a preacher, enjoying the attention of female parishioners, but the world called him to a much bigger life, and he chose to live it and suffer the consequences.

Far more often, people have smaller lives forced on them. Because of disability, poverty, family needs, or discrimination, some are prevented from doing things at which they could otherwise excel. For women under patriarchy, workers under capitalism, serfs and slaves, prisoners and many others, living large is only a dream. In my view as disabled person, it’s best to acknowledge the barriers one faces.  Find ways to work around them when possible and desired, but be realistic about what’s optimum for you.

You’ll know you’re at the right size when

۰You work hard when you need or want to, and take it easy in-between
۰You don’t regret responsibilities accepted or opportunities not taken
۰You are not held back by fear or low self-esteem
۰You have enough love and connection to others
۰You are not doing harm to anyone.

For me, that’s all there is. If you’re satisfied with your life, it’s probably a good size.

People write books and blogs every day on having a bigger, more successful life. Advertisers, motivational speakers, and a whole society promote having more, doing more, being more. “More” can be a recipe for frustration and harmful behavior, but keeping small out of fear or laziness isn’t good either.

As Kimmerer and Picasso  agree, find your gift and share it, even if that means spending time on things you don’t like, such as self-promotion or going back to school.  But getting bigger is not a have-to.  Being your own size is best. It’s OK to get help to figure out what that size is at a particular time.


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Animals Enjoy Life. Why Don’t We?

Photo by Eelco Böhtlingk on Unsplash

“I saw a chimpanzee gaze at a particularly beautiful sunset for a full 15 minutes, watching the changing colors, until it became so dark that he had to retire to the forest without stopping to pick a pawpaw for his evening meal.” — Adriaan Kortlandt, wildlife researcher in Congo

So how come this chimp, threatened by leopards, searching for food in an endless “struggle for survival,” can stop to appreciate nature’s beauty, and we don’t? Well, according to a great book I just finished, Pleasurable Kingdom by Jonathan Balcombe, that’s what animals do. They play; they relax; they love. They enjoy life. The endless struggle for survival is real, but it’s far from their whole story.

● Animals love touch, as anyone who has petted a cat knows. Chimps spend an average of 20% of their waking hours grooming themselves or each other. I gather that “grooming” isn’t exactly hairstyling or manicures. It’s more like massage, carefully going over the whole body to pick out bugs, heal sores, and generally give pleasure. For us, “20% of waking hours” would mean over 3 hours a day taking care of ourselves and making each other feel good.

Chimpanzees, along with bonobos (“pygmy chimps”) are our closest evolutionary relatives. If they spend so much time enjoying life, we probably evolved to do something similar. And in fact, early humans, the hunters and gatherers, did live much more relaxed and peaceful lives. Studies show that modern hunter-gatherers only work about twenty hours a week to survive and may devote the rest of their time to leisure. (Although some other studies find they work a bit more.)

● Most mammals enjoy physical play. Some evenings now, I go out and watch the dogs play in my neighborhood. About ten people come with their dogs to a large open courtyard and take them off their leashes. They jump and roll, chase and wrestle each other, apparently having a great time.

● They also engage their other senses: sniffing under things, chewing things. They like human food because it tastes better than raw meat, even if it’s not good for them.

● Animals enjoy music, too. Rural friends tell me that farm animals can be called by music and stand listening to it for hours. Studies show lab animals have reduced stress when listening to music and that different species like different varieties.

● Fun and games — It’s not only primates who enjoy themselves. According to Balcombe, all vertebrates, and perhaps all creatures do. My partner Aisha and I used to visit the animals at a local Petco for a cheap date. One day, we saw two mice on an exercise wheel. They both ran in the same direction until the wheel was spinning really fast. Then the mouse in back stopped running and gripped the bars, while the mouse in front kept going. So the back mouse was spun overhead until it was upside down, and then came around so it was now in front of the other mouse. They would stop for a moment to rest and then do it again, with the original front mouse now in back getting the loop-de-loop ride.

Just for fun. Scientists like to say everything animals do is for survival value, but when we watch them, we can see this is obviously not true. Once on a beach near Monterey, we saw a medium-sized dog, a setter or retriever, standing off-leash on the sand. A gray and silver bird, maybe half the size of a gull flew right by the dog’s head, and the dog started chasing it. The bird flew in circles, maybe 40 feet in diameter, while the dog bounded after.

When the dog started to tire and sat down panting, the bird flew to a nearby post and perched on it, waiting. After a few minutes recovery, the bird buzzed him again, re-starting the chase. They did this pattern three times that we saw. There was clearly no survival value in this; the bird was just having fun acting as the dog’s personal trainer. I’m not sure if the dog enjoyed it or not, but he kept chasing, even though he didn’t have to. Maybe he needed the workout.

Life is hard, but, like animals, we are built to enjoy it. When something feels good, it’s probably good for you. As doctors Robert Ornstein and David Sobel documented in their book Healthy Pleasures, evolution (or God if you prefer) tries to ensure that we’ll survive to reproduce, by making us enjoy things that are good for us. That’s why sweet things taste good — in nature, a sweet food is one that likely provides energy and is nontoxic. Touch feels good, and it also lowers our blood pressure. And that’s why sex feels good — the pleasure encourages animals (including us) to come together to reproduce.

Animal misery is a lie

So why do modern humans spend so little time enjoying ourselves? I think we’ve been trained out of it. We’re taught from childhood that work is our #1 priority, and pleasure is suspect or sinful. We learn to focus on what’s wrong, not on what feels good. We’ve forgotten some things that animals still know.

The fable that animals’ lives are miserable hurts in two ways. It justifies treating them badly, since whatever we do to them can’t be any worse than what they suffer anyway. So factory farms are OK. And it tells us to gratefully accept whatever we are given, no matter how meager, because it’s better than what the animals have. What a wonderful belief system for workers, if you want them to work harder for less! It’s like having an inner boss saying ‘No time for fun now!’

True, if everyone cut back on work to enjoy life, we would probably be poorer in material terms. Our life spans might be shorter, as the hunter-gatherers’ are. But maybe quality is more important than quantity. Anthropologist Marshall Sahlins called hunter-gatherers “the original affluent society.” They desired little and needed little, while modern people desire much and work very hard, he said. He calls the old ways “affluence without abundance.”

Some tips from kids and animals:

● Physical play — Like animals. kids love to run and tumble, swing or slide. For adults, physical usually means competitive sports or sex, but there are so many ways to enjoy moving our bodies. Think walks in pleasant places, dance, for starters. Some people find workouts a source of pleasure.

● Good food — Eating is a great pleasure .The more attention I pay to food, the better it tastes.

● Enjoy all your senses. More touch, more hugs. Listen to music and play it. (Go YouTube!). Also, listen for birds and the pleasant sounds of people’s voices. Look at beautiful things. Smell the air. Flowers!

● Relax. I once went for a walk in a park with my friend Jane. After a couple hours, we were going our separate ways. I asked Jane what she would do the rest of the day. “Just chill,” she said. I thought that was what we had been doing, but that’s how she lives. I’m trying to learn her way.

● Dramatic play — Pretending gets us outside ourselves. Or try Storytelling: for 100,000 years, stories were people’s main way of having a good time.

● Create visual art. Draw, paint, sculpt. Make a mess.

● For some people, drugs can be a valuable way to enjoy life. Cannabis is my drug of choice, makes life more enjoyable without making me crazy.

If you want more tips, watch children or animals; they’ll help you. Wishing you years of pleasure to come.

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Don’t Let Israel Kill My Friends

 Child in front of her bombed house in Gaza Image: Samah Askar

I’m sitting at my desktop wondering when my friends will be killed. Across 7,400 miles separation from Gaza, I can feel my friend Samah Askar’s terror and grief in every post and picture she sends. Since I set up a GoFundMe for her and a few other Gazan families, others there, male and female, have sought to friend me. They need money, because Gaza lives under a 15-year military blockade and has suffered a series of wars that have wiped out their economy.

Unemployment in June of 2020 was 49.3%, according to Relief Web, and that was before COVID shutdowns. According to the US Central Intelligence Agency, 30% of Gaza lived in poverty in 2011. That was three wars and a pandemic ago, so it must be worse now. There are no jobs; staying alive is full-time work.

Because money is not my strong point, I can’t help my Gaza friends much financially, but I can learn from them and tell their stories. Samah has three beautiful children, age 2–7 and a husband disabled by an Israeli shell while attending an unarmed demonstration. Though her home in Gaza City is only about 50 miles from Jerusalem, where she has family and friends, she has never been there. The occupation’s travel restrictions and her lack of money have made it impossible for her to travel She reports on Gaza and takes pictures she shares with the world through internet platforms such as Facebook.

               Samah’s children Image: Samah Askar

One way I try to help is through a web site called We are Not Numbers (WANN,) which pairs aspiring writers with English-language tutors and publishes some of their short pieces. The writers are amazing young people, creating beauty while living under military rule and fear of imminent death.

Shahd Safi of WANN wrote:

The voices of bombs and tanks
Shatter my peace of mind.
Children the age of my siblings
just 1 year and another 3 months,
are hit as if they were insects.
Buildings that are homes are targeted,
toppling as if in slow motion.
I wonder, is mine the next?
With every explosion,
my heart beats fast.
For a moment I just stand,
without blinking.
Am I still on earth or have I died?

        WANN writer Abdallah Al-Jazzar Image WeAreNotNumbers.org

Several of the young writers talk about sitting at their computers, feeling helpless. One, Noha Saneen, in the town of Beit Hanoun in northern Gaza, wrote: “I sit at my desk, taking my pen as my sword and writing as my shelter. My little nephews and nieces are surrounding me, as if I can ensure them safety. Sadly, I cannot.”

In San Francisco, I don’t share their fear, but I do share their helplessness. I call government representatives and go to demonstrations on their behalf. I write letters to editors and articles on Medium. It feels nowhere close to enough.

I worry for them. Every time I see a post or IM from one of them, I sigh with relief, ‘They’re still alive, and there’s still electricity.’ In between, I feel guilty for not doing more and for being of the ethnicity (Ashkenazi) and the nationality (American) who punish them for existing.

Gaza was once a tourist destination with great weather and beaches. It has been coveted and conquered by Egyptians, Assyrians, Greeks, Romans, Turks, British, Israelis, and many more. Now it is largely ruins, destroyed by a series of Israeli invasions in 2008, 2012, 2014, and 2021, attacks sometimes called “mowing the lawn” by Israelis who don’t seem to recognize Palestinians as people.

Israel officially “withdrew” from Gaza in 2007, but maintains a total blockade of land, air, and sea, which makes them an occupying army under international law. No one and nothing gets in or out without Israeli government permission. So, it’s a very hard place to do business, even if your shop is one of the lucky ones that doesn’t get bombed. 37% of Gazans test as clinically depressed, according to Arab Barometer, which does quantitative research on the Middle East.

Most people in Gaza are refugees from other parts of Palestine, whose parents or grandparents were dispossessed of their homes by previous waves of Israeli expansion. The ongoing ethnic cleansing of Palestine goes unnoticed in the West except when someone fights back or when Israel decides to intensify their assaults, as they are doing now. Then the US government and media chorus, “Israel has a right to defend itself.” (As an occupier under international law, they have no such right. Their actions are far from “defensive,” and they are under no significant threat anyway.)

                 Demonstration in Jerusalem Image: WeAreNotNumbers.org

Their families’ repeated dispossessions cast dark shadows over my friends’ lives. WANN writer Afaf Al-Najjar wrote about friends in Jerusalem, the city of his ancestors: “There is nothing I can do to help them, no way even for my words of solidarity to reach their ears as they stand in the streets against the flying rubber bullets — How badly I want to go to Jerusalem, the place I call home but have never been allowed to visit. How much I miss the sand I have never touched, the trees I never sat under, the sound of birds and people I have never heard. I miss it all, I miss home.”

Israel likes to claim that it strives to reduce civilian casualties, for example by giving apartment tower residents a few minutes warning before demolishing their homes. Israel’s supporters favorably contrast their missile strikes with Hamas’ unguided missiles into Israel.

But many families receive no such warning. Samah knows families in her own neighborhood wiped out while they slept. The New York Times reported May 14 that “Gaza City was silent with fear, except when it was loud with terror: the sudden smash of Israeli airstrikes, the whoosh of militants’ rockets arcing toward Israel, the shouts of people checking on one another, the last moans of the dying.”

                          Wounded Gaza child Image: Amal Arafa

The endless hours of terror have worn people down. My friend Amal Arafa, a nurse in a hospital damaged by Israeli bombing, wrote of “30 of my family huddled together in one room for 24 hours, walls shaking from explosions outside, not knowing if this breath will be our last.” And Samah Askar wrote that “My legs have given out from terror. I can barely walk.” These women are trying to care for children even more terrified than they are.

Israel government supporters use frankly racist arguments. WANN writer Abdallah alJazzar quoted a Palestinian friend who, while a student in the USA, asked an Israeli-born classmate, “How do you feel when Israel bombs Gaza and children die?” His answer: “We believe that the life of an Israeli is worth that of 1,000 Palestinians.”

The American activist group Jewish Voice for Peace released a statement saying, “What we are witnessing is not a “conflict,” a “clash,” or a “war.” For 73 years, the Israeli government has systematically stolen and demolished Palestinians’ homes, illegally seized their land, and separated them from each other. In this totalizing system of violence against Palestinians, no one is safe. We deplore the catastrophic loss of Palestinian life, and we grieve for the loss of all lives — Palestinian and Israeli.”

I have learned a great deal from my Gazan friends. Their endless patience and their courage teach me how much strength each of us has within, and the power of supporting each other. I kind of knew this, but watching how Gazans not only survive, but grow and love in such an insecure, impoverished environment inspires me to keep going and do more to help.

I am glad to have connected with these amazing people. I ask everyone to call and write their Congresspeople, the White House, the state department, and your local media. Demand the USA tell Israel to cease fire now, get out of Gaza and the West Bank. Support Rep. Betty McCollum’s Palestinian Children and Families Act (HR 2590), which prohibits US aid to Israel from being used to imprison children or dispossess Palestinians from their land and homes. Keep resisting and standing up for justice and peace.

#savesheikhjarrah #FreePalestine

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