Palestine, Peace, Politics

a funny thing happened on the way to hebron

(This was originally published on Presbyterian Peace Fellowship’s blog)

I attended the Christian Peacemaker Teams’ Board Meeting as the Presbyterian Peace Fellowship representative, not expecting anything life-altering, but transformation waits for no one.

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CPT planned their Board Meeting in Hebron, Palestine during the week of March 13th. They sandwiched it between a Sabeel Conference and a delegation, in case people could take off work longer than a week. It just so happened to coincide with my Spring Break and I decided to travel halfway around the world, instead of resting from my other part-time jobs.

My adventure began at 11:30pm on Saturday, March 11th when I boarded Turkish Airlines at JFK. I had a layover in Istanbul and arrived in Tel Aviv on Sunday, March 12th at 11:30pm. I prepared for the flights and layover by downloading enough content in terms of TV shows and e-books. I would’ve had the biggest case of ennui if I didn’t.

When we landed in Tel Aviv, I prepared to be questioned. My first encounter was with an Israeli soldier who picked me out of the arrivees. He asked me the standard questions of Who, What, When, Where, Why of my time in Israel. I passed the test and finally made it to Passport Control. There, I was asked the same basic questions, but was asked more directly about my time in Iraqi-Kurdistan, which was actually my first delegation with CPT last May.

Unimpressed with my answer, they sent me to a separate room with a few others who apparently had red flags about their passports as well. Let me add, too, that most of the CPT Board had already arrived in Jerusalem without any kind of trouble.

About 10 minutes in, I was called out by an Israeli Security Force agent for questioning. She first handed me a sheet that looked like this:

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I filled it out and was asked about where I worked, organizations I financially support, if I have ever protested, if I give to organizations who support BDS (Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions), and other pointed questions about where I was staying on my visit. Finally, she asked to see my phone, searched through my emails, contacts, Facebook, and text messages, and asked if I knew Arabic. Feeling exposed, vulnerable, and panicky, I asked if she needed anything else and requested to be excused. After all, I had just spent an hour and a half with her.

When I got back to the holding room, I texted a CPTer to let them know that I was okay, but that I was detained and would keep them up to date. After another hour of waiting, the same security patrol person sent me to another room, Border Control. For several more hours I waited. With my anxiety heightened, I paced around the room. When the room emptied around 7:45 AM, I was called in. I was asked if I was going to Palestine and if I supported BDS, both of which I denied, hoping that they wouldn’t go through my Facebook again to see all my “likes” of BDS related pages. Eventually they handed me back my passport and I left at 8am.

I travelled by shared taxi to the Old City in Jerusalem, zombie shuffled to the hostel, and slept for 10 hours. Thankfully, I was still able to fall asleep at midnight and left the next day with a few other Board members to Hebron.

The rest of the days were split in two. We spent every morning with the CPT Palestine Team patrolling several checkpoints in Hebron. We high-fived kindergarteners going to school in an attempt to bring some kind of hope, in spite of the apartheid state. These children are among the Palestinian people who are designated as “other” by a green passport, as opposed to the blue passports held by Israeli citizens. Those with blue passports are allowed to breeze past these checkpoints while the others are held and interrogated; there’s a similar system for license plates, though obviously none of our new kid friends were driving. I noticed that despite this repression, kids will always go to corner stores to pick up chips and candies, and the latest sneakers and fashions will always be a priority for high school students. Our afternoons were spent at the Hebron Hotel listening to reports from the director, committees, and having lively discussions about what it means to be a Christian organization even when many of our team members practice different faiths.

We adjourned on Friday afternoon and leaving Israel was much easier than arriving. Sure, I went through extra security, but wasn’t harassed, nor was my phone taken away.

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I come away from the whole experience with a few fractured thoughts.

  • I am more convinced than ever that Israel is an apartheid state. The segregation found with different color passports and license plates to identify who should be targeted is a disgrace. As well as after hearing the history of these checkpoints, from once being a table and some guards to concrete and metal, it shows the certainty of how severe and long lasting Israel wants this oppression to be.=
  • CPT’s work on the ground in Palestine, Canada, Colombia, Iraqi-Kurdistan, and Lesbos is crucial in our global political climate with more right-wing fascists spewing their hate-filled rhetoric and creating racist and discriminatory laws without caution or pause. I am thankful for their endurance and courage, and honored to be a part of it.
  • Peacemakers and truth tellers are politically dangerous. To call out oppression and imperial nonsense startles the mighty.
  • I could not do any of this work without the love and support of this community of peacemakers, creative folk, and rabble rousers.

Lastly, I would be remiss if I didn’t add that what I experienced was not even a fraction of what thousands experience every day. From Iraqi-Kurds denied entry into Turkey, to Black Americans unsafe in their own neighborhoods, or to migrants who attempt to find safe passage through dangerous desert terrain. This week altered my perspective: it’s not that I think that I’ve walked in the shoes of a Palestinian, but that I have seen with my own eyes a sliver of the harsh reality imposed by a seemingly outdated system of oppression. It only then makes sense, to me, to find hope in a God who calls us to act peacefully and justly.

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Justice, Peace

meeting the mexico/us border for the first time

A repost of a piece I wrote for the Presbyterian Peace Fellowship blog.

“You can tell me about the politics of Latin America,
but you don’t know what’s happening at your own border.”
– Activist from Colombia

The School of the Americas Watch Protest has become my activist family reunion. For the last five years, I’ve marched with many of the same people from organizations I trust and love. This year we converged on the Mexico/US border in Nogales. This choice, in my opinion, was politically necessary. With the fascist rhetoric of anti-immigration, mostly about those from the global South, it seems only appropriate at this time to show our solidarity. And it’s true, overall, I don’t know much about the border, so when the Colombian activist spoke the words above, it struck me. One weekend in Arizona is not going to give me the full story about the militarization at the Border or the use of drones or the great work of solidarity by churches to those crossing the desert. I have much more to read, experience, and stories to listen to.

Throughout the weekend, as usual, much creativity was on display: from the puppetistas to the Peace Poets to the noise demonstration outside the ICE Detention Center. I decided then I didn’t want to only write a reflection, but a song.

“Meeting the Border for the first time”

I went to Arizona not knowing what to expect
No, me and the Southwest, we’ve never met

I heard stories of torture
in Detention Centers
Where people are caged
and the law is dismembered

Make some noise, Eloy*
Make some noise, Eloy

I went to Arizona not knowing what to expect
No, me and the Southwest, we’ve never met

I heard a boy was shot
after throwing some rocks
He was killed through the fence,
16 years old

Presente, Jose Antonio**
Presente, Jose
Presente, desert hopefuls
Presente, refugee

I went to Arizona not knowing what to expect
No, me and the Southwest, we’ve never met

I witnessed a wall in Nogales
It was tall, strong, and rusted
Why do we separate people?
Was this part of God’s plan?

Tear the wall down, Oh God
End the babel, Holy One
Open our homes, Holy Refugee
Give us courage to love

I went to Arizona not knowing what to expect
No, me and the Southwest, we’ve never met
But I’ll be back.

*Eloy was the town where we went to the Detention Center. 
**Remembering Jose Antonio
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anti-war, Peace

ramblings about anti-war, the election, and calvin

I’ve been thinking about how difficult voting with a clean conscience appears to be with this election, and perhaps all elections. I consider myself a single issues voter; my issue is justice. More specifically, I care deeply and have been part of peace movements for almost a decade. Unfortunately, the nominees for President are rather slim pickings when it comes to justice and peace issues. Neither wants to shut down Guantanamo Bay* or side strongly with the Black Lives Matter movement or even consider to decrease/eliminate our military budget.

Since I’m a new Presbyterian I thought John Calvin, a founder of Presbyterianism, might give me some insight into our predicament, but unfortunately I was sidetracked by his affirmative writings on war:

In the Institutes of the Christian Religion, Calvin declared war to be lawful and right. He reasoned “that in the Apostolic writings we are not to look for a distinct exposition of those matters [i.e. war], their object being not to form a civil polity, but to establish the spiritual kingdom of Christ” (4.20.12). Calvin depoliticizes the Gospels and the letters of Paul, Peter, John, and James. He completely ignores the Imperialist context they were resisting. For example, Paul rebukes Peter of not practicing reconciliation around a meal with non-Jewish Christians (Galatians 2:11-14). James tongue-lashed the rich for condemning and killing the non-violent righteous one (5:6). Or even John’s First Letter, which declares that loving other people and loving God go hand-in-hand (1 John 4:20-21).

For Calvin the Scriptures show “in passing that Christ by his coming has changed nothing [i.e. war and violence] in that respect” (4.20.12). In other words, Christ came to bring a spiritual kingdom, not to change the present one. This kind of logic has made it possible to kill hundreds of thousands of people since Calvin’s time. But then must we ask Calvin: “What does Jesus mean when he prays, ‘May God’s will be done on Earth as it is in Heaven’ mean?” Does nationalism exist in God’s heaven? Will heaven’s borders have tanks, drones, or angelic national security guards? How does someone who’s faith demands of them a respect and love for all people, especially the poor and marginalized, would want to even wield a gun, or even be violent? What say ye, Calvin?   

I am reminded of “Garden” by The Collection

“So I shot a man in Afghanistan, he was bleeding on me 

then he said his name was Jesus and he never had an army 

as he took his dying breath, the last thing that he thought he’d tell me is 

“It’s better to die for nothing than to kill just for your country””

Sure, Calvin does not tickle my fancy when it comes to war, but will this affect my reading of him as I go further into the Presbyterian rabbit hole? I’m not sure. 

What I am sure of that is there are many other faithful Christian anti-war/pro-peace advocates whom I adore and look to for inspiration including these two incredible women, Dorothy Day and Mother Teresa:

Dorothy Day and Mother Teresa, New York, 1979

 

*Still disappointed that President Obama did not fulfill his promise to shut it down.

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Peace, Politics

batman, kurdistan, and the red prison #PPFIK

Currently,  I’m with the Presbyterian Peace Fellowship and Christian Peacemaker Teams on a delegation in Iraqi Kurdistan.

Today, we visited the Red Prison in the morning. Below is the blogpost I wrote for the Presbyterian Peace Fellowship. It didn’t hit me until later in the afternoon how drained I was from the experience.

Before coming on this delegation, we were not given a detailed schedule of our 13-day stay. Rather we were told to prepare emotionally. Our CPT delegation coordinator, Terra, explained that this trip will affect our whole being: emotionally, physically, and spiritually. I did my best to prepare for such things before leaving by spending time with friends and re-watching some of my favorite episodes of my beloved Frasier. Yet, today, on the second day of our delegation, I was so emotionally drained from going to and learning about the Red Prison that I had to take a two-hour nap

The Red Prison is just one of the locations Saddam’s regime set up to torture and execute Kurdish people. The facility was built in 1979 and was in full use from 1984-1991. On our tour, we saw where they imprisoned young Kurds. In their cell, there were several depictions of Batman on the wall. Possibly a sign of looking for a superhero to save them from this hellish experience. Notice how Batman’s arms are open wide and that he’s smiling.

We listened to how women and children were kept in the same space. That many of the women were raped and had to birth and raise their children in such wretched conditions.

We saw how each room had a bowl on the ground for the Kurds to eat like dogs and how they were forced to 10 second bathroom breaks.

It’s not that I didn’t know that Saddam Hussein was a horrible dictator who should’ve been captured. These impermissible acts of violence, abuse, and torture are evil. It’s that I wonder why the US did not speak out earlier against these crimes against the Kurds, but that we had to occupy Iraq two decades later (2003-2011(?)). The problem is that the US gave monetary resources and chemical weapons to Iraq during this time. This was during the same time of the Iraq-Iran War (1980-1988) and the Reagan administration wanted to be sure that Iraq would win. This led to the killing of thousands of Kurds using chemical weapons in Halabja and hundreds of Kurdish villages were bombed to non-existence. From 1984-1991, hundreds of thousands of Kurdish people were killed, hundreds of thousands more tortured, and millions displaced.

Kurdish blood stained the floors of the torture rooms. Kurdish blood has stained my heart and memory. May we as peacemakers put an end to torture and executions. May we continue to lift up and remember those who have been murdered with the help of our government. May we, with God’s help, create a world where people are treated with dignity and reparations abundant.


In the afternoon, we met with Mullah Nadar, who is an interfaith peacemaking Muslim leader of Iraqi Kurdistan. He was a joy to listen to. One of the reasons he became non-violent was that he saw his family killed by chemical weapons before his very eyes and understood that violence cannot disrupt violence, only peace can.


Over the next four days we’ll be in the Kurdish mountains with spotty internet access. Keep us on your mind and in your prayers.

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