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Be brave: Activating the chemical reaction of Quaker process

Thu, 2017-07-20 12:53

Last July, my six housemates and I finally finished hauling all our furniture off the enormous moving truck and sat down in the cross-breeze of two fans to hash out who lived in what room in our rented Victorian rowhouse in West Philadelphia.  

Each person laid out their ideal room criteria—I wanted a room on the third floor to be isolated from most of the noise from downstairs, Richie wanted a room big enough to put a couch in, Gage wanted to beat the rising summer heat by living on the second floor, Barbara and Lena wanted lots of natural light so they could grow plants. We figured out what to call each room (third floor funny shaped, second floor front, carpeted middle one) and took another lap around the house to eyeball them down.  

We started with a sort of straw poll. Everyone laid out their top couple choices, on the off chance that we had all chosen differently. Unfortunately, most everyone landed on the same three spacious end rooms with hardwood floors and lots of windows. Bummer.  

So we refilled our water glasses and settled in for a longer conversation. We don’t all have the same definition of Spirit, but we certainly do a sense-of-the-meeting business process. We weren’t going anywhere until we had all arrived at an agreement without resentment, reservations, or coercion.  

There’s a graph for that 

As I was thinking about Quaker process, I remembered a graph that popped up in every molecular biology course I ever took, showing how chemical reactions change energy levels:  


Every reaction needs some energy (the big hump in the middle of the graph) to break down the old bonds of the reactants (left side) and pave the way for the new bonds of the products. The amount of energy to get over the hump is called the “activation energy” (green text) for the reaction. Each molecule has to get enough activation energy (get to the top of the hump) to break old bonds and form new, different bonds, making the product of the reaction (right side). If the reaction has a catalyst, it takes a little less activation energy to break the old bonds (red line). 

A good example of this process in action is making cheese sauce, say, for a late-night snack of mac and cheese for a bunch of hungry twentysomethings. Cheese, milk, and butter (reactants) in a pot isn’t much to look at. Turn some heat (energy) on under it, and the bonds holding cheese to cheese and butter to butter and milk to milk start to break down. As the temperature rises (the reactants moving towards the top of the hump), cheese starts making bonds with milk, butter to cheese, and milk to butter, until every molecule is at the top of the energy hump (has enough activation energy) and is simmering into a delicious sauce (product) to cover noodles with. If you use the powdered cheese that comes with the boxed mac, it takes a little less heat to get delicious sauce (meaning some mystery substance in the Kraft powdered cheese a catalyst for the reaction).  

Got it?  

Ok, here’s the Quaker process reaction:  

Each person who shows up to meeting (reactants) brings their own opinion. To arrive at a Spirit-led, sense-of-the-meeting decision, each person (reactant) has to break down their old understanding (break down the old bonds). The bravery to step into a vulnerable, open place where Spirit can rush in and open a heart or connect to a place of inner wisdom, is the activation energy of the Quaker process reaction. Each person has to reach that brave place (the top of the hump) for a sense-of-the-meeting decision to be reached (for the reaction to be completed). There’s always going to be some of that bravery (activation energy) required, but the more a group trusts each other and the more they practice being brave, the easier it gets (a catalyst for the reaction).  

“Screw your courage to the sticking place” 

Lady Macbeth is a character at odds with most Quaker values, but her admonishment to “screw your courage to the sticking place” is a decent mantra for diving into collective decision making. That moment, right before you open up, is terrifying—sweaty palms, racing heart, tensed muscles, wanting desperately to run away and claim you don’t need anyone but yourself.  

We have to let go of a lot to be brave—all the barriers we’ve learned to put up to protect ourselves for when people let us down. Just because you’re in a Quaker space doesn’t mean you won’t feel let down again, but you're deciding that the gains from letting those barriers fall is worth the risk (trust is a catalyst). For me, there’s a particular roil in my stomach that lets me know I have to do it, I have to be brave, even when I’m scared or unsure about the outcome.  

Even if you've been brave before and know it works, there's always going to be that hump of activation energy. The hump gets smaller the more you enter a brave space (practice is another catalyst), but it will never be completely gone. It becomes less like forcing yourself to do it, and more like joyfully choosing to be brave.  

So how did we decide who lived where?  

It took an hour or two, and some more running upstairs to imagine what a room could look like with furniture, but my housemates and I figured it out. We were brave enough to not stake a claim on a room and refuse to give it up, for fear of being pushed into a worse room. We trusted each other not to let anyone end up in a room they were deeply unhappy with.  

I was scared that I would get stuck with what was objectively the worst room in the house—a tiny, carpeted middle room, without a closet, and airless even with the only window wide open. But by the second or third time I went up to look at it, I stopped feeling fear and started seeing possibilities—an ocean green coat of paint, some twinkle lights, and I could build my own clothing rack. I had time between jobs and a little extra money that could turn a boring rectangle into my oasis. I stuck with the process long enough to be open to the possibilities (you could say seeing that of God in every room?) and even got excited to live there. 

My housemates and I add a provision to our Quaker process: we re-visit our decisions after the fact. Sometimes we have to live with a decision for a little while to see if it's going to work. When it doesn't, we go back and re-arrange. And yeah, it takes a long time and if that one person would just let it go, that would make it easier for the rest of us. But we made a commitment to take care of each other, and if someone is unhappy, we do what we can as a group to fix it.  

We are all in this together, and Quaker process at its best embodies that. If someone is in pain, or having a leading, or a decision needs to be made, we hang together and figure it out. Until every person has found a way to be brave, through the talk and prayer and guts we Quakers call “laboring,” we don’t have enough activation energy to complete the Quaker process reaction and reach a Spirit-led decision. But once everyone gets up that brave energy, we find powerful guidance and care for one another.     

So, are you being brave in your Quaker process? Are you honoring other’s bravery? Are you allowing your old bonds to be broken down and transformed? 

Quaker and Transgender, Part 2: An interview with Kody Hersh

Wed, 2017-07-05 13:58
Ending discrimination

Read part 1 of "Quaker and Transgender," an interview with Elijah Walker, here

Kody Hersh is a member of Miami Monthly Meeting in Southeastern Yearly Meeting, which is the meeting he grew up in. He is on staff for Philadelphia Yearly Meeting working on youth programs. He describes himself as a Quaker, a Christian, a writer, and musician. He identifies as “queer, trans, genderqueer, male-ish, and white, more or less able-bodied, and middle class.”

Emily McGrew: Tell me a little about your journey to Quakerism.

Kody Hersh: My parents were war correspondents in Latin America, and became pacifists doing that work and seeing what war looked like. My mom ended up working for the AFSC when they moved to Miami, then joined my meeting, and my dad joined a few years later. I don't remember ever not being Quaker. But then also, I felt like I had experiences of convincement as a teenager, where I felt like I got a deeper sense of what Quakerism could be and what my relationship with God could be like within that tradition. I identify both as raised Quaker and a convinced Friend.

Emily: Can you tell me more about what those convincement experiences were like?

Kody: I got an invitation to a Friends General Conference consultation on youth ministries. Basically, they were asking all of the affiliated yearly meetings to send one or two young people to this consultation. They were paying airfare, and I was like, "Whatever … you're going to pay my airfare, it's free! Sure, I'll go spend a weekend talking about Quakerism with people in Philadelphia." And I connected with folks there who were talking about Quakerism differently than anything I had ever heard before, with this passion that was really different than the meeting I grew up in, [which] was relatively secular and very peace- and social justice-oriented, which I identified with a lot.

Emily: How do you experience Quakerism and your spirituality? What does that look like for you?

Kody: It feels like it's in a kind of odd and complicated place right now, because I'm not attending a monthly meeting regularly, but I still feel so grounded in Quakerism as my spiritual home and way of looking at the world and thinking about my relationship with God. I feel like God and I are doing an experiment right now, in pursuing joy as a primary motivator in spiritual life, rather than sense of obligation, which is why I'm not going to meeting right now. Because I think I was going to meeting for a long time because I was like, "That's what Quakers do! If I'm going to be a good Quaker (TM), I will wake up on Sunday mornings and go to meeting." I feel like God and I are doing this thing where God is like, "Follow where you feel joy and connection, that is your obligation, that's it."

I experience Jesus as a radical teacher and living presence, as a central part of how I experience my faith and think about it. The images and metaphors that feel most deeply true to me come from Christian and Quaker traditions.

Emily: Was there a role that Quakerism and your Quaker community played in exploring your gender identity?

Kody: Through my Quaker community, I knew trans folks before I ever knew that I was trans. And that was just a huge gift, it made it so much easier to come out. Because I had seen how my parents had reacted to other trans folks coming out in my community. I knew that I had people I could talk to who had personal experience of coming out. I didn't have those connections through any other group of people except Southeastern Yearly Meeting, so that was huge. I also feel like I got this profound sense of love and community and acceptance from my meeting growing up. That made me feel like even if I did things that confused them or that they didn't quite know how to respond to, that there was no situation in which they were going to, like, not love me anymore.

Basically that describes my relationship with my parents and my relationship with my meeting, and all of that made a really solid ground for when I started to have a sense of my gender being different from what I had thought that it was, being able to explore that without fear.

Emily: Were there any stories of moments with Quakers where you were figuring that out, that you want to share?

Kody: I was young when I came out, I was 16 or 17, and I think people respond to trans kids in a way that is kind of heightened. We don't trust trans folks talking about their identities, and we don't trust kids talking about their identities and experience, so when you're a trans kid, nobody believes that you know what you're talking about and everybody will try to talk you out of it.

I go home for yearly meeting sessions every year. It is one of the only places where I get mis-pronouned regularly. This is where I developed this dollar fee system: I put a little note on my nametag that informs people of my pronouns, and tells them if they get them wrong, they owe me a dollar for every instance (there's not like a one-dollar pass; every time, you owe me a dollar.) That's been a really great system for interrupting people's guilt cycles about it. When they start apologizing and trying to tell me why and I'm like "Whatever, just give me a dollar, we're good."

Emily: What can the Quaker community do to support you, as a trans person?

Kody: I grew up and am still mostly in the liberal, unprogrammed branch of Quakerism, so that's mostly what I can speak to. I think, like a lot of progressive communities, that challenge is mostly recognizing that we have work to do. I see this in what the Society of Friends needs to do to confront racism in a serious way, or what we need to do to confront the ways that patriarchy functions within the Religious Society of Friends. The language that comes to mind is, the first step is recognizing that you have a problem. Because we don't have a lot of overt hatred that people express within our communities, because our political positions are often very progressive, it's easy to think that we don't have to do very much work, but we have so much work to do on all of those things.

I want people to practice pronoun usage. I had some really great conversations at FGC Gathering last year with folks who were really struggling with using the pronoun “they.” I was telling them about this article I read where somebody decided that their cat's pronouns were “they,” so they would have an opportunity to practice them. I told that story to a lot of people, and said, "Pronoun your cats," you know, do what you gotta do to practice this sh*t so you're not enacting all this practice on trans and gender non-conforming folks in the community.

Read and watch and listen to stuff that is not just about trans folks, but that is made by trans folks, to describe our experiences.

Compensate trans and gender non-conforming folks for teaching people. Have somebody come to your meeting and do a forum, and pay them for it.

The things I want are pretty basic. I want to not worry about whether people are going to use the correct pronouns for me, or perpetuate all of the subtle ways that cissexism functions in the world, like with comments equating gender and bodies, basically all of the layers of microaggressions that I sometimes experience more intensely in Quaker community than anywhere else.

I want people to back up their lovely good intentions with learning and practice, and the humility to admit that they have more to learn. I also have things to learn about other trans folks' experience. I feel a lot of compassion, especially for older folks who feel like there's all of this information that they're struggling to catch up with. I've heard that from so many people that it feels like there's so much new language and if they try any of it, they're going to misstep. [I want people to try] stepping into things, but then be willing to accept feedback about them, without defensiveness.

Quaker and Transgender, Part 1: An interview with Elijah Walker

Fri, 2017-06-30 11:56
Ending discrimination

Elijah Walker grew up in Northeast Arkansas, and moved to Portland two years ago to do Quaker Voluntary Service. He stayed on for a second year, the alumni fellowship. He works at West Hills Friends Church, which is a liberal, semi-programmed meeting in Portland. You can hear some of Elijah's messages on the church's Soundcloud page.

Emily McGrew: Tell me a little about your journey to Quakerism.

Elijah Walker: I grew up Missionary Baptist in rural Arkansas. I always felt really drawn to Spirit-led worship, which wasn't really a thing in my church. My journey kind of went all over the place when I came out as transgender when I was 17. My church wasn't affirming. I explored a lot of different denominations at that point, went to an Episcopal church, Disciples of Christ, and a few others ... tried on atheism for about five minutes and that didn't work for me.

A few years ago, I was feeling like it was time to find a church that was a good fit, and a church that could affirm my identity as a trans person, and also my call to ministry. I really didn't know anything about Quakerism at that point, but I was drawn to a Spirit-led worship model, I was drawn to non-hierarchical leadership, and to the peace church tradition, so that led me to Quakerism pretty clearly.

I was living in a town that was about two-and-a-half hours away from the nearest meeting, so it didn't really make sense for me to commute to meeting every Sunday. I tried it out once, and within five minutes of open worship at this unprogrammed meeting in Memphis, within a few minutes I just felt very clear that it was a good fit for me. And at that point, I didn't know about all of the different branches of Quakerism. I was just under the impression that unprogrammed meetings, that was the norm. I basically read everything I could get my hands on about Quakerism, watched QuakerSpeak videos, started learning about Quaker Voluntary Service, and I decided QVS is like the best immersion experience in this practice. I decided to do QVS because I wanted to be a Quaker, which I don't think is the typical experience for QVS fellows.

I moved here to Portland, and fell in love with the Convergent Friends model out here. There are several unprogrammed meetings, and programmed and semi-programmed meetings out here, which all have a relationship together and worship together once a month. I love that model in particular. I fell in love with West Hills Friends. It's been an amazing journey to get here.

Emily: How do you experience Quakerism and your spirituality? What does that look like for you?

Elijah: It's kind of interesting, because at the time of joining QVS and really diving into Quakerism, I wasn't sure how I felt about Jesus and more Christian language around spirituality, but as I've gotten deeper into Quakerism, what I've found is that I'm seeking Christ not as a savior, like I thought when I was a kid, but I'm seeking Christ as a friend and an inner teacher. My spirituality is very much focused on following the leading of my inner teacher, which is Jesus.

Over the past year, part of my work at West Hills is to create a worship group for people who have been traumatized or hurt by the church at large. In that worship group, we call it Fifth Day, we meet on Thursdays, we seek to reclaim the liberating message of Christ. That has been one of the biggest parts of my work and of my spirituality over the past year, reclaiming the message of Christ as liberator, as friend, rather than the oppressor, which I think has been the narrative of American Christianity.

Also, I'm kind of an odd duck in that I am charismatic, and sometimes I might speak in tongues under my breath during open worship. I'm kind of sacramental too. I found myself in open worship at West Hills, and I kept feeling this leading to make the sign of the cross, and I kept saying "No, I'm not doing that, there's no way I'm doing the sign of the cross in Quaker meeting for worship." And I looked over a few minutes later, and the person next to me was doing the sign of the cross. It was hilarious to me. (Hear Elijah preach about this story here). So in my spirituality, I'm more likely to try things outside of what's considered normal in Quakerism. I think that's ok, I think whatever enriches my spiritual life is worthwhile.

Emily: Was there a role that Quakerism and your Quaker community played in exploring your gender identity?

Elijah: I came out as trans when I was 17 and started my medical transition shortly after that. Because of the way the health care system works in our country, and especially the way it worked before Obamacare, I was not able to have chest surgery when I needed to. I wore a chest binder every day that compressed my lungs and did some real damage to my muscles and joints. I had to wait almost seven years to have my chest surgery. I had known for a long time that I felt led to do a year of service, not necessarily QVS but a year of service, and I told myself that I wouldn't do that until I had had my chest surgery, because it felt important to take care of my body and my emotional and mental well-being as well. Finally, in 2015, a friend loaned me the money to have my surgery and a few months after that I moved out here to do QVS.

It's kind of interesting, at that point I thought my transition's done, I won't feel weighed down by the complexity of navigating gender transition in a binary system. But since I had never really addressed the spirituality of my gender transition, when I got here and was affirmed in a really beautifully diverse Quaker meeting, it opened up the floodgates, and I started understanding what it meant to be a trans person of faith in my life and what it would look like to experience that in my body for the first time. It was just a really complex experience. My faith community has been really lovely about affirming that along the way.

My church has been a part of Northwest Yearly Meeting, an evangelical Friends Yearly Meeting. Northwest Yearly meeting is not open and affirming to LGBTQ people, but West Hills Friends came out as affirming, wrote a minute of affirmation for queer and trans people several years ago. Northwest Yearly Meeting basically expelled us from the yearly meeting two years ago, the month before I moved out here, so it was kind of a wild time.

We were officially released two years ago, and then there was an appeals process, and we thought maybe we would be able to mend this relationship. And then in January we were notified we would be officially released and they asked us to form a new yearly meeting with a few other churches that have recently announced that they're open and affirming as well. That has been a really interesting part of my processing what it means to be a trans Quaker, because I'm having really basic conversation sometimes with Quakers, about gender identity, having the most basic trans-101 type conversations that I thought I wouldn't have to have in this context, and trying to justify who I am as a person.

I became Quaker because I needed a faith community that would affirm my identity. West Hills has been solid. If there are ever any people at West Hills who say something that's hurtful, I feel comfortable enough there to explain to them why it's not OK and people are really receptive to that, whereas with this wider body, I'm not really sure. ... There are certainly a few affirming people there, but I'm never really sure what's OK to say and how honest I can be about my journey.

Emily: What can the Quaker community do to support you, as a trans person?

Elijah: What I need is for people to educate themselves before coming to me with their questions. I don't have the energy to answer basic, trans-101 kinds of questions these days.

I also think that there's a tendency when meetings or churches come out and say that they're affirming, there's a tendency to believe the work is done at that point. We've approved a minute of affirmation, so clearly we're affirming, but I think understanding that the work is never done. The work of welcoming and affirming and valuing a person's identity and dignity as a human, that work will continue forever.

For trans people, particularly for trans women of color, but across the board in the trans community, we have worry about physical safety. That is a really traumatic experience. What I would love to see from Quaker communities is to find people who are really deeply invested in helping people recover from that trauma. I think that is spiritual work and communal work, and it’s important work to do.

And then there are really basic, tangible things that can be done. Like at my meeting, we have all-gender restrooms, like single stall, all-gender restrooms. I don't think I had ever been in a building that had labeled all-gender restrooms. Maybe that says something about where I grew up in Arkansas. When I walked into my meetinghouse and saw that for the first time, it let me know that at least I have a basic level of safety here, and that was really helpful for me.

The biggest thing is to not expect trans people in the local meeting to be the sole educator about what it means to be trans. I think that's really important.

Read part 2 of "Quaker and Transgender," an interview with Kody Hersh, here.

Resisting the export of war by Israel

Mon, 2017-06-19 10:47
Building peace Ending discrimination Palestine-Israel

Four months before the massacre in Srebrenica, where 8,000 Bosniaks were murdered, Israel contacted the Serb forces to offer them 500 sniper rifles and training free of charge. Even after the massacre, Israel continued its arms sales, including a sale of Lau missiles less than a month after the massacre.

250 exhibiting military companies. 48% of exhibitors are international companies. 15,000 visitors from across the globe. 86% of attendees have buying power. These are the highlights of ISDEF, Israel’s biggest arms and military technology exhibit. This year it took place on June 6th-8th, exactly the week of the 50th anniversary of the Israeli occupation of the Gaza Strip, West Bank, and Golan Heights.

Wearing t-shirts reading, “Israeli military industries profit from the occupation" and carrying smartphone cameras and a banner, ten activists crashed the party to remind all the attendees that the Israeli military industry is exporting Israel’s occupation work. This disruption was part of a series of events challenging the Israeli military industry and their development, testing, and marketing of weapons at the expense of Palestinians, and the export of these to over 130 countries where these weapons further oppress people.

The Coalition of Women for Peace and AFSC brought together activists from all over the world to share their experience of being on the receiving end of Israeli arms, tactics, and trainings. In addition to meeting with activists, protesting outside of the ISDEF exhibit, and the disruption, we organized a shadow conference to speak about what the true human cost of these arms industries are to both Palestinians and oppressed peoples around the world.

The Israeli Arava Cargo plane was used by Mexican, Argentinean, and Guatemalan governments during the “Dirty wars” in these countries, to kill and disappear dissidents by dropping them into the ocean in what became known as “death flights." 

An activist from Bosnia spoke about the Israeli sale of arms to the Serb forces during the massacres in the 1995. A researcher from Arizona spoke of Israel’s role in the militarization of the US-Mexico border, and the growing humanitarian crisis there. Black activists from the U.S. spoke about how Israel trains police forces who later attack and criminalize their communities. South Africans spoke about Israel’s sale of arms to Apartheid South Africa, and the current oppression of student protests. A member of the favelas movement in Rio De Janeiro spoke about the Israeli weapons used against those in the favelas by the most deadly police force in the world. A Palestinian human rights advocate from Gaza was video conferenced in to talk about Israeli drones and bombings of Gaza, as well as the surveillance technology used to maintain the siege on Gaza. Many more from Palestine, Argentina, Colombia, the U.S., the U.K., Holland, Israel, and South Korea, added to the conversation about Israel’s military ties to their countries, but more importantly, how they resist it.

The main theme that emerged at the shadow conference was the constant state of war we are all told we live in, and the realization that there’s an entire industry dependent on these never-ending wars. The war on terror, the war on drugs, the war on crime, the war on immigration…None of these are wars. None of these have an end point. This is the time we live in, the time of everlasting, low-key wars against an invisible enemy, against people all around us, against us. This war is fought through control, and those who manufacture methods of control are profiting from it endlessly. When the entire stock market crashed after Trump's election in the U.S., only the arms industry stocks went up – this is not a coincidence. While we lose, there are those who gain. This is what we were protesting, this is what we were talking about, and this is what we will continue to resist. 

Responding in peace, standing firm in justice: An interview with Dina El-Rifai

Wed, 2017-06-14 10:25
Ending discrimination

Dina El-Rifai is the public policy fellow in AFSC's Office of Public Policy and Advocacy in Washington, D.C. Dina helps develop and co-facilitate anti-Islamophobia trainings for allies with an intersectional, institutional, and racial framework. She also works with the Communities Against Islamophobia program to monitor federal legislation and writes media pieces with analysis and an alternative narrative that centers the impacted community and criticizes institutional and structural anti-Muslimism. The following interview is lightly edited from email correspondence. 

Emily McGrew (EM): What inspires your work?

Dina El-Rifai (DE-R): I came to this AFSC fellowship after having lived in Nashville, Tennessee for 12 years. Because Tennessee served as a testing ground for a lot of racist, xenophobic, anti-Muslim legislation, the environment I grew up in throughout my middle school, high school, and college years was largely impacted by the sorts of policies that would surface [nationally]. In 2010 and 2011, we saw a lot of mosque opposition and anti-shariah bills surface in Tennessee. 

I remember feeling a lot of fear and frustration as I was exposed to this level of anti-Muslim hatred and intolerance, and try to reconcile how an identity and country that I claim could inflict such violence onto me.   

Being exposed to this at a young age, as well as being an Egyptian-American who around the same time—in 2011 when the Arab Spring and the Egyptian revolution started—was seeing my people rise up against oppressive and dictatorial regimes, take to the streets with their demands, and push for social justice, my passion for social justice continued to grow.  

During the summer of 2013, I was in Egypt and witnessed the world around me bleeding as one of the world’s largest killings of demonstrators in a single day in recent history occurred, known as the Rab’aa Massacre. Close to 1,000 protesters were killed in a single day, and over 2,000 were killed in total. In summer of 2014, in America, we witnessed the Black Lives Matter movement spark in Ferguson. I joined protests in Ferguson in October of 2014, and days later, my uncle in Egypt was targeted and imprisoned as a political prisoner because of unjust and repressive Egyptian tactics that seek to essentially stifle opposition to the government by criminalizing practicing Muslims. 

From early in my life, because of my multifaceted identity and the way I experience and empathize with the world around me, I committed myself to resistance. This commitment is what motivated me to choose to look for opportunities to organize for social justice after graduating with a bachelor's in social work, and what ultimately led me to AFSC, whose values and rich revolutionary history resonated with me and inspired me. 

EM: How does your faith influence your work?

DE-R: I think this question can best be answered by one of my favorite verses from the Quran which says “those who tread the earth gently, when approached with ignorance, respond only in peace” (25:63).  That reflects how I live my life and what motivates my work. My faith teaches me that responding in peace does not mean passivity, but striving for justice. Despite the experiences that I’ve had as a Muslim American and the ignorance I’ve faced, I’m a strong believer in responding to ignorance with peace and fully acknowledge that peace cannot be separated from justice.  

There is much that my faith teaches me about standing for justice. Another favorite verse is “O you who have believed, be persistently standing firm in justice, witnesses for God, even if it be against yourselves or parents and relatives. Whether one is rich or poor, God is more worthy of both. So follow not personal inclination, lest you not be just ...” (4:135).  

EM: How do you feel about the state of the world now? What is your vision for the world 15 years in the future? 

DE-R: To be honest, the state of the world right now can really easily make one feel pretty helpless. From the 1,600 Palestinian political prisoners on hunger strike [note: this hunger striking prisoners won concessions and suspended their strike after our interview, on May 27. You can read more about it here.], to the calculated assaults on my Muslim community (here and abroad)—through weapons arms deals that perpetuate murderous war on terror policies; to our government’s incessant insistence on defending its discriminatory and racist Muslim ban (which was just struck down, again, by a federal appeals court, but is likely to be taken to the Supreme Court by the Trump administration); to the deliberate and disturbing targeting of undocumented immigrants trying to make lives for themselves and their families; to a justice system that in itself is a human rights violation in every way, including its neglect of serving justice for victims of sexual assault; to a society that doesn’t frame American deaths at the hands of domestic violence as honor killings … as you can see, I’m overwhelmed.  

My vision for the world in 15 years ... is to live in a world where criticizing your government isn’t met with questioning your loyalty, that instead we amplify these voices; to live in a world where white people in particular can take ownership of the transformative power of accountability and responsibility in a world that continues to be harmed by white supremacy; and to live in a world where we see the concept of shared security lived out in movements and policies; ... to live in a world where we all protect one another, and are working towards a shared goal of global security, in which one people’s security doesn’t impede on or violate another person’s security, humanity, or dignity.   

EM: Where do you find hope and inspiration right now? 

DE-R: People are waking up, and the people who have been woke (because they’ve long been brutalized by these systems of oppression since before Trump exposed them) are amplifying their voices and are owning their power in leading movements. For me, it’s a laborious task to be living as a Muslim right now, especially as a visible Muslim (wearing hijab). The target on your back can feel all-consuming.  

What gives me hope is that to honor the labor of being a Muslim woman in a post-9/11, Trump-era America is to uplift and honor a Muslim diaspora of Black and brown activists that draws on a global experience of resistance to white supremacy, militarization, and colonialism. As an American Muslim, I continue to find strength, courage, hope, and wisdom in Black Muslims who continue to lead and resist a system that doubly marginalizes and disenfranchises them.   

EM: Is there anything else you’d like people to know about the work you’re doing? 

DE-R: It’s been inspiring to be in D.C., our nation’s capital, and to see such strong and courageous leadership and organizing happening by Muslim women activists. What I find the most encouraging and uplifting is to see narrative-change work happening here, as Islamophobia is framed in a structural and institutional framework, understood as a product of broader systems of oppression, such as imperialism, white supremacy, colonialism, and militarism.  

As this narrative-change work is happening, as these political education trainings are unfolding and led by Muslim activists embedded in this work, we’ve also realized the importance of holding Muslim-only political education trainings in order to empower and equip the impacted Muslim communities with the knowledge and skills to understand the complexities of the systems that oppress us so that we are able to challenge them together.  

Stand next to us and push: An interview with Ingrid Latorre about the Sanctuary movement

Fri, 2017-06-09 14:11
Defending immigrant rights Ending discrimination Sanctuary Everywhere

I spoke with Ingrid Latorre soon after she was granted a temporary stay of deportation after being taken in Sanctuary by the Mountain View Friends Meeting in Denver. Jenn Piper, AFSC’s Interfaith Immigrant Organizer joined us to translate and added her perspective as well. - Lucy

Take Action: Tell ICE to keep Ingrid home.

Lucy Duncan: Ingrid, thank you very much, it's wonderful to meet you. It's been very inspiring to watch your journey and your courage in the face of your struggles and in the last few weeks.

I know that you have told this story a number of times, but just for the purpose of this interview and considering the situation now, Ingrid, could you please tell the story briefly of what led you to enter Sanctuary at Mountain View Friends Meeting?

Ingrid Latorre: Really I took Sanctuary because all of the other options were being denied to me by Immigration. I took Sanctuary in order to continue fighting for justice in my case. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) had what they call a voluntary departure, and then I asked for a stay in order to try and reopen my criminal case where I had received poor legal advice, and immigration denied that stay, twice, and the Quakers had been accompanying me during the two times they denied my stay and they offered me Sanctuary and that was a chance to keep fighting my legal case and to try and get justice. It was also the only way to keep my family together, to keep my two boys and my partner and I together in the United States while I fight my case.

Lucy: And what was the impact on you and your family, of being in sanctuary? And how did the community care for you?

Ingrid: It was an experience that was both beautiful and sad. It was sad because my partner and my oldest son stayed in our family home and myself and my youngest son came to live in Sanctuary and so we were somewhat separated by the experience. But it was also beautiful because I felt very protected and safe in Sanctuary. Every day, people came to visit us, and play with my younger son and talk with me, and stay the night in case immigration should come to the church. I felt very supported by the community.

Lucy: Ingrid, you received a temporary stay of removal until August. I know Arturo was picked up, but then received a stay, and also Jeanette has received a stay. It seems as though...and why do you think that ICE is willing to grant that for each of you? What do you think were the circumstances that made it possible for that to happen?

Ingrid: So the three cases are very different and very distinct. In my case, I'm really pursuing a legal strategy that would allow me to reopen my original case and change the plea, which would then allow me to reopen my immigration case. In the case of Jeanette and Arturo, because Arturo doesn't have any convictions, and Jeanette's are misdemeanors, Senator Bennett introduced a private bill for each of them, they were part of the last group of people who can access a stay through a private bill. I was hoping to be included and to have a private bill as well in my case, but that didn't happen, and I can't be upset or jealous about that. I feel very grateful to have the two months that I do have, to be able to attend my court on July 7th, and I hope that I'll win my case that day. If I win my case that day, if I'm able to reopen my criminal case, then I can continue with more time here to reopen my immigration case. But each case is very distinct and I don't know if every person who enters sanctuary will end up with a stay of deportation or not.

Lucy: Are there elements of the way that's it's very public that are supportive, do you think the media prominence has an influence on what happens?

Ingrid: It can go either way, the press attention in your case, it can help you or hurt you. And each case is very different. In the case of Jeanette, she's a long-term activist who's very comfortable with the media and being very assertive in her case. In my case, both because of who I am, my own personality, and the sensitivity of my case, with me having to go to court, and my lack of experience before Sanctuary with the media, it was kind of a quieter approach. We did some media work, but it was much more sporadic and had a softer tone to it. The press is helpful with organizing the immigrant and the faith communities, they become engaged because of what they see on the news or they become more involved in supporting our cases and supporting changes.

Lucy: So last week, Haris was deported. I know a little about the story, and the arrest and detention of undocumented people has risen 38% since Trump became President. What do you think is needed to interrupt these deportations? Piper was talking earlier about the regression from all of the policy wins in the Obama administration. What do you think it's going to take to shift things now?

Ingrid: What we really need is the Congress people and the Senators to do their job and do the hard work of figuring out an amnesty and immigration reform program that would allow all people who are undocumented in the United States, all 11 million, to get on a path to citizenship, but for that to happen, we really need better unity and more people within the country pushing for that, and being united between all the immigrant communities and all the communities that were born here in the U.S. to work together and to push for that, because otherwise it's not happening. It's not looking very hopeful at this moment with the Congress that we have and the amount of pressure that we have from communities is not enough yet to get there.

Jennifer Piper: I think it's also going to require the immigrant community to get organized at the neighborhood level in defense communities and be super ready to push hard and to interrupt what's happening in their neighborhoods, supported by really strong groups of allies who are ready to do that work and to call for reform for all 11 million and not be dividing and labeling the immigrant community into deserving and undeserving, but to really push for a more just system. And I think the other thing is going to require support for general labor strikes by immigrants and their allies, to cause the sort of moral and economic crisis that's needed for change, if we're going to get there in the short term and not in another 20 years, it's going to require resistance across all facets of our society.

Lucy: Thank you, that's very powerful. It's interesting, because it seems like we're at a very precarious moment with the shifts in the administration and the massive criminalization of immigrants. It's also reminiscent of the other times in history, like when the Fugitive Slave Act was passed, there was a sense that free Blacks at the time felt a little bit more safe and a little bit more protected, but when the Fugitive Slave Act happened, there was mass criminalization and they weren't safe anywhere, and so it radicalized the movement, it radicalized the white progressive supporters, and they stopped thinking of gradual change and they started fighting for immediate emancipation and the abolition of slavery. I wonder about Trump, there's this other piece where he's vastly exposing the system, which some people didn't even notice, or ignored under Obama, even though he was deporting so many people. So the question is, what are your thoughts about the possibilities for deeper change? What you're talking about in terms of much more massive resistance is one of them, but what is your sense of the possibilities for deeper change in the migrant rights movement at this time?

Ingrid: I think it's time for us to act, and to live without fear. We need to be really be in the streets doing strikes, hunger strikes and labor strikes and lifting up our voices. I don't think that hiding will save us. We have to speak out and we have to get a change, not only in these policies, but also in this administration. We have to see this President go, he's someone who's just not ethical.

Lucy: What are your hopes? I hear about expanding the kinds of activism that is happening with economic strikes and hunger strikes and massive resistance, but if there's more a vision for an expanded Sanctuary movement, what would it look like? And not only for the migrant community, but beyond that, and what might it accomplish for us all?

Ingrid: My hope would be that the movement would expand beyond Denver and beyond the places where it is already to as many places as possible. And not just to have allied churches, but to have many more immigrants involved in leading the movement. And sometimes that's a difficult thing, but I've been trying to say to people that it's never too late to get involved, to come to a meeting, to get involved with Not One More or another organization and make your voice heard and be a part of changing things. And I try to really refer people to the meetings I know are going on and to invite people to get involved.

Jenn Piper: I think we're at a juncture where we have to decide what it is we're going to do. A lot of that depends on what the immigrant community is going to ask from us, and I think they're still figuring that out to a large degree, but are we going to invest the time and the energy into creating more networks and more support earlier on, in sort of this rapid response to immigration enforcement and really exposing what that looks like in our communities and our schools, or are we going to expand the church Sanctuary movement with the idea of really overwhelming the system and making it impossible for people to get away from the consequences, both economic and human, of the system that we have. I think that we have to make a choice and we need to be strategic about it.

If all 400 congregations who have signed up to say that they would definitely do Sanctuary did it, that would have an enormous impact, to have 400 immigrants around the country in resistance, and have their voices amplified by the congregations they're working with, would be pretty inescapable for the larger populace, and I think people would have to start making a choice about where they stand. I think if we're not going to do that, then what are we doing to support the other forms of resistance that Ingrid was just talking about?

Lucy: What would you ask of allies in the fight for migrant justice? And not just to do, but how to be? I think it's important that people hear this again and again, what's the best role to play for an ally?

Ingrid: That people get involved and work harder next to us, so we don't feel so isolated, so alone.

Piper: What I would ask from allies is to be really conscious of the privilege of time. There are communities that are ideologically diverse and actually do need time to make a decision together and to hear one another, and then there are communities that aren't, that are all on the same page, that are uncomfortable with acting without knowing everything or are uncomfortable acting in an area that is new to them, or to us. What I would ask of allies is to get used to, and to search out being uncomfortable every day. Where we're really learning and transforming ourselves and our communities is in that place of uncomfortablility. We need to live into a place where we don't know the answers, walking alongside people who are in a system where there are no answers. And I think in terms of transformed policies, like what Ingrid said, in terms of being able to honor, i think that citizenship is tricky, because it's been denied to Native people and all kinds of people over the course of our history, but it's one of the ways we confer human rights on people in the US, is by affording them citizenship and through that, access to human rights and dignity. I think that that's one piece of it. I think there's a much bigger piece that's looking at how do we disarm capitalism? If we're not going to do that, how we ensure that people have the same rights as goods and as money to cross borders and to move freely about the world, if we're going to have this very competitive, Darwinian competition of the fittest, in the capitalist vision, then we should also allow the people who are involved the same amount of freedom to move and to compete and to follow the resources. So I think at a much larger systemic level, we have to look at: what is the economy we've created, and how do we enforce second class citizenship around the globe by denying some people the right to move and to follow the resources that sustain them or keep them relatively safe, or provide them opportunity.

Lucy: What would the community where migrant justice was a lived reality look like? What would that vision include? Obviously not being threatened by ICE and by deportation, but what else might it include for a community that's really based on justice for migrants and for everyone?

Ingrid: It's almost hard to imagine, that it seems so far away, that vision, but I think that a lot of it would be just feeling free to walk about and to move about wherever you are without always looking over your shoulder to see if there's a police officer or immigration officer coming to your house or pulling you over in your car or when you're walking down the street. To have that freedom, to go to the store and to the park and not be afraid.

Lucy: Thank you. The last question that I have is, what gives you courage? What gives you hope?

Ingrid: What gives me hope is my family. They're really what inspires me to struggle and to fight, to stay together.

Piper: What gives me hope is seeing people willing to have hard conversations. And people both from the ally and immigrant communities’ willingness to speak out and to be vulnerable and to push.

Related Content

Keep these families together: Denver Quakers provide Sanctuary 

Displacement, swimming and resistance: Vignettes from Jerusalem at 50 years of occupation

Tue, 2017-06-06 11:46
Building peace Ending discrimination Palestine-Israel

I moved to Jerusalem in 2003 and lived for the first two years in Beit Hanina, a neighborhood located in the North of the city on the way to Ramallah.  The house I lived in was literally next to the Ar-Rum checkpoint which made the surroundings quite “lively”, to say the least, and a bit “messy” to be generous.  My landlord, an old, gentle, blue-eyed Palestinian man took good care of me and helped me in navigating the intricacies of being a young, single, foreign white woman in Palestinian land.  The checkpoint was removed a couple of years later and I no longer live in that house, but I still visit my landlord’s grocery shop and he still greets me with a big smile and a “Hello, Ms. Mati!!!”. 

One day, in the peak of violence of the Second Intifada, I was talking to him and sharing my initial thoughts about what I was seeing in my travels to Nablus, Hebron, Jenin and Gaza, and about how the construction of the Wall was encircling the city.  Instead of following my conversation about the existing situation, he started to tell me his story and how his family and himself as a child, back in 1948, had to flee their house located in German Colony, another neighborhood in what is today the Israeli side of the city.   I realized then that, in addition to hosting Palestinian refugees from villages inside Israel, Jerusalem also has internally displaced, i.e. families that still live in Jerusalem but were expelled from their houses to which they cannot return.  For them, for my landlord, it was not about what was happening at that point in 2003, it is not about the 50 years of occupation but about almost 70 years of displacement within their own city.

Many will be celebrating the unification of Jerusalem these days.  To any visitor with a reasonable inclination of wanting to learn about the place, it is strikingly clear that the city is not unified but deeply and systematically divided. The fact that my landlord cannot go back to his house in German Colony says much about the type of unification the Israeli government has achieved. It has “unified” the city for its Jewish residents at the expense of keeping the Palestinian population as second class “residents” in their own city, living in increasingly crowed neighborhoods, paying extraordinarily high municipal taxes for services they hardly get and suffering constant pressures to leave Jerusalem and give up their residency.  The wall built around Jerusalem has already pushed thousands of Palestinians out of Jerusalem and since 1967 (50 years ago this week) a total of 14,000 Palestinians have seen their residency revoked.

Also, many will be celebrating the 50th anniversary of the liberation of the city.  If you ask the Palestinians from Jerusalem, such liberation looks like a constant threat of demolition of their houses, adolescents and young Palestinians being stopped and searched in the middle of the street and even detained if they happen to be in the wrong place at the wrong time.  Those who have the means and possibilities are moving abroad as their sons and daughters hit adolescence.  Being a Palestinian teenager in Jerusalem today is a risky business not because of what you may do, but because of what can be done to you.  Most families stay as a matter of principle to keep the Palestinian presence in the city.  And all try to cope as best as they can, trying to make ends meet and live a life as normal as possible.

For the last three years, my two children have joined a Jerusalem swimming club which holds the swimming lessons at odd hours in the late evening at the YMCA in West Jerusalem (across the street from where President Trump slept during his last trip to the city), because the more normal hours for swimming are reserved for the members of the sports complex, most of them Israelis.  There are few swimming pools in Jerusalem that can be easily accessible for Palestinians and the few swimming clubs in the city look for options in the various sport complexes, most of them located in the Israeli side of the city.  Through these years, it has been remarkable to witness how, despite the hours, closures and difficulties, every Friday and Saturday, Palestinian parents would cross the city from far away neighborhoods to take their children to learn how to swim.  One could tell that there were troubles in the city when the number of children coming to swim would suddenly decline. 

One day all the roads around the swimming pool were closed because of Jerusalem Day (the day settlers celebrate the unification of the city).  Given that it would be almost impossible for the Palestinians in the East cross to the West, I called Ibrahim, the head of the swimming club, to ask him if there was swimming that day or not.  He said, “of course there are lessons, it is Saturday, there is swimming!”.  I was hesitant and thought he had not realized what day it was but then I got embarrassed at myself and understood that for Ibrahim not canceling the lessons was his small, quiet, but powerful act of resistance.  When I think of what happened in this city 50 years ago, I think of my landlord and Ibrahim and realize that this is what Palestinians in Jerusalem have been doing for all these years: resisting the occupation by being here, by continuing swimming, by keeping normalcy within their lives with the hope that, one day, true liberation for all in Jerusalem will arrive. 

Related content:

Reflecting on Palestine: Violence, occupation, and apartheid by Mike Merryman-Lotze

Drawing for justice: Mohammad Sabaaneh on Palestine, art, and justice, interview with Lucy Duncan

Against equality: Fundamentalism and climate change denial

Fri, 2017-06-02 15:32

Folks are acting surprised at the vigor with which white fundamentalist Christians oppose the idea of global warming, dismiss it as a hoax, and insist that environmentalism is some kind of blasphemous worship of Mother Earth to be resisted at all costs. Let me see if I can help. Remember the Scopes "monkey trial?"

The passionate opposition to the theory of evolution had to do with the way it connects humans and "apes" and threatens to "make a monkey out of us." White supremacy promotes the idea that Black people are ape like and inferior and quite possibly soulless. See the connection? For the system to survive there has to be a hierarchy. Equality is a threat to the addictive sense of specialness that comes from whiteness.

White fundamentalist Christians have the same problem with global warming as they do with Darwin. It means we are all equally at the mercy of the earth which means, once again, there is no hierarchy.

Humans are not special and if there is no special, there is no special of the special. If we really are all equally connected to the earth and each other, what happens to whiteness? That's what is really at stake here. Dress it all up with God talk all you like. Argue about the suspicious motives of scientists and liberals and atheists and China and "godless pagans" and whatever. That is just the smokescreen.

What is really at stake is not "religious freedom." It is the feeling of specialness that comes from whiteness, a lethal addiction that will ultimately destroy the earth and kill us all. It is time to make a choice. Equality will come one way or another. The only question is will we learn to live together as equals or will we wait until we are all equally dead?

Reflecting on Palestine: Violence, occupation, and apartheid

Wed, 2017-05-31 17:04
Building peace Palestine-Israel

On March 29, 2002, fifteen years ago, the Israeli military launched Operation Defensive Shield.  I was living in Ramallah at the time, working with the Palestinian human rights organization Al-Haq.  Defensive Shield followed a number of smaller military invasions of Ramallah and we all knew a day in advance that the invasion was coming. You could see the Israeli tanks and armored personnel carriers massing around the city as the military prepared for their invasion. 

I was living with two other foreigners, one chose to leave Ramallah for Jerusalem as did most foreigners. The other decided to stay in another part of Ramallah with a female friend who is now his wife, so I can’t blame him for leaving me on my own.  I chose to remain in Ramallah and was alone in our apartment for most of the next month while the city remained under a military imposed curfew. 

The night of the invasion I moved out of my bedroom which was on the side of our house which faced Al-Tira, a neighborhood through which one group of Israeli tanks entered the city.  I spent the next month sleeping on the floor of our smaller bathroom which was in the middle of our house because it was away from windows and walls that might be hit by bullets or shells. 

That night was filled with explosions and gunfire.  The lot next to my home was empty and contained both a short stone wall and a good view of Al-Tira.  For the first night of the incursion Palestinian gunmen crouched behind the wall and fired at the Israeli tanks across the valley.  The tanks fired back using heavy weaponry.  I was fortunate to have a building between mine and the tanks so my building was not hit by that fire, but I watched through our kitchen window as bullets from the tanks hit nearby homes where I knew families were present. 

Most armed resistance in Ramallah ended within 24 hours of the incursion.  Gunmen fought the military through the night, but by morning the military was ensconced in positions throughout the city.  The curfew that came into effect with the military takeover of the city was first announced through sniper fire.  A woman in my neighborhood went onto her balcony to hang out laundry that first morning and was shot in the head and killed.  A young man living next door to the house where my roommate was staying went out to smoke a cigarette and was shot.  His roommate went to his aid and was also shot.  The neighbors could only watch as both men bled on the balcony while awaiting evacuation.  Fortunately, they both lived.  Phone trees went into effect and we learned about these shootings.  We learned not to leave our homes and to stay away from windows.   

The curfew in Ramallah as in effect 24 hours a day for the remainder of the invasion.  It was lifted for only two or three hours every three or four days. During those brief liftings of the curfew people were allowed to leave their homes to buy needed food or other items and to check on relatives in other parts of the city. Cars couldn’t move through the streets, but you could walk between neighborhoods. 

During a smaller invasion of Ramallah in early March several Al-Haq staff lived in the organization’s offices to receive phone calls from people seeking assistance during the invasion.  I broke curfew during that invasion to go to the office every day to assist with case intake.  I could do that because both my home and Al-Haq’s offices were in the small part of the city that wasn’t taken over. 

When it became clear on March 28th that the Israeli military would invade Ramallah, it was decided that one of Al-Haq’s staff members, Yasser, would remain in the office to answer phones.  Sometime on March 30th Al-Haq’s director received a phone call from Yasser indicating that soldiers were demanding entry to the office.  He hung up the phone the answer the door.  We didn’t hear from him again that night and it wasn’t until a week later that we learned that he had been arrested.  He was ultimately held in administrative detention without charge or trial for six months.  His story is detailed in the Al-Haq report “Screaming in the Dark”. 

When the curfew was lifted for the first time four or five days after the invasion started I was asked to go to Al-Haq’s offices to find out if Yasser had left a note and to see what had happened.  I entered the office looking for blood or other signs of violence.  While there were no signs of Yasser, the office had been raided, files over turned, doors broken, and several computers had been stolen.  As I explored the office I was confronted by Israeli soldiers who had taken over the adjoining office which housed Mustafa Barghouti’s organization HDIP.  They had broken down the door that connected the two offices and quickly chased me out. 

Al-Haq engaged an Israeli lawyer and with support from international human rights organizations it received a promise from the Israeli military that they would not remain in Al-Haq’s offices. Not trusting this promise, I returned to Al-Haq’s offices the second time the curfew was lifted and took all of the organization’s computers to my home.  They remained in my unused bedroom throughout the rest of the invasion. 

When I was taking the computers, I noted that the soldiers had moved several filing cabinets so that they blocked access to most of Al-Haq’s offices from HDIP.  Al-Haq was fortunate.  HDIP was used by the military as a base of operations for the rest of the invasion. When we entered HDIP’s office after the Israeli military withdrew one whole room was stuffed with garbage, feces were smeared on walls, and graffiti covered many surfaces.  Every computer disk in the office had been systematically destroyed and all computers had been stripped of their hard drives.  Similar actions were taken in offices across the city. 

On the second day of the invasion the military searched my street for the first time.  A group of soldiers arrived in jeeps, led by a tank.  All men on the street were called out of their homes.  We had to stand in a group in front of the tank with our hands in the air as soldiers checked IDs.  On this occasion, they didn’t check houses. 

Several days later a second round of searches occurred late at night.  When the soldiers arrived I was working at our dining room table.  This group of soldiers searched the side of the road opposite my house.  They were brutal. 

The house directly opposite mine was owned by a family who were in Canada so nobody was home to open the door when the soldiers knocked.  When no answer was received to repeated knocks, the soldiers began to break in the door.  At that point a neighbor who had a key to the home in question turned on her light, thinking that she could give the soldiers the key to avoid damage to the home.  The soldiers in the armored personnel carrier parked nearby immediately opened fire on her home using heavy machine guns.  She dropped to the floor (as did I) and was not injured, but her home was severely damaged. 

The soldiers yelled, screamed, and broke property as they searched homes that night.  They also detained three young men from down the street.  They didn’t arrest the men, but instead took them halfway across the city and then abandoned them in the street.  This was done at a time when snipers shot anyone who was outside.  The men were taken in by a family that lived in a home near where they were abandoned and returned home the next time the curfew was lifted.  In many respects, they were fortunate as hundreds of other men were detained for weeks or months.

The night of April 2nd was one that I won’t forget.  That was the night that the Israeli military took over the Preventative Security Office in Betunia.  They surrounded the building with tanks and forced out the Palestinian police inside, arresting many.  They searched the prison, releasing criminals and detaining others.  They then proceeded to destroy the compound, firing tanks and missiles into the buildings throughout the night. 

In most other instances Palestinians were not allowed to surrender.  When they took over the city, one of the locations where Israeli soldiers confronted Palestinian security personnel was the British Council building.  Five Palestinians were killed in the building’s stairwell.  Israeli sources reported that the men were killed in a gun battle while Palestinian sources reported that the men were executed. 

I was asked to go view the site of the killing for work purposes when the curfew was lifted.  It was clear from what I saw that the men were executed.  They were killed on a landing in the stairwell.  All of the gunshot marks were on one side of the stairwell.  The pockmarked wall was splattered with blood which also covered the floor.  The opposite side of the stairwell and landing were unmarked.  If there was a gun battle it was one sided. 

Gunmen also holed up in the Natche building in the center of Ramallah and the building was surrounded on March 30th.  Tanks and armored personnel carriers poured gunfire into the building throughout the day causing extensive damage and killing some men inside.  Many other buildings in the downtown core of Ramallah were damaged at the same time.

Several months earlier, while returning from a friend’s engagement party, an acquaintance and I were detained by Palestinian security forces at a checkpoint they had set up in the Masayoun neighborhood at the edge of Ramallah.  The acquaintance I was with started talking with the security men and not only convinced them to let us go but also got them to invite us to their home for tea.  We spent several hours talking with them that night.  Of the four men we drank tea with only one survived the March-April invasion. 

When the soldiers came back to search my side of our street they were much less aggressive.  They knocked on doors, rang door bells, didn’t yell, and didn’t destroy property, but their actions were not any less threatening.  My building was searched by two soldiers while many others waited outside.  The first floor of my building was home to two families.  One of the two couples on that floor was visiting the other when the soldiers arrived.  Their young son was at home alone in the bath.  They were not able to rejoin him when the soldiers searched their apartment.  He was forced to sit naked under a towel as armed soldiers moved from room to room through his home.

When the soldiers arrived at my apartment they were utterly confused.  One was Russian and the other Ethiopian and neither spoke English.  They could not understand why I was in Ramallah.  One put his gun against the back of my neck and the other walked beside me, gun at the ready, as we moved from room to room through the house.  When they looked in my bedroom and saw all the Al-Haq computers one smiled and said, “you work computers?”  I said yes and that seemed to solve their confusion.  When they left, I went to check in on my landlord’s family on the second floor.  My land lady was throwing up and trembling from fear.

Another night I remember was less dramatic but more painful.  The curfew didn’t simply limit individual movement.  The Red Cross and Red Crescent also stopped their movement after the military repeatedly attacked ambulances.  One night Al-Haq received a call from a woman whose mother was going into diabetic shock after she ran out of insulin.  We attempted to coordinate for her removal, but medical personnel couldn’t reach the home.  We received increasingly desperate calls throughout the night as the woman’s condition deteriorated.  She died. 

I was fortunate in that I had electricity throughout the invasion and was thus able to spend much of my time working.  Many others were not so fortunate.  Roads throughout the city were purposefully dug up, cutting electrical cables and water lines. 

Water to our building was cut approximately one week into the incursion.  Water services were not reconnected for more than three weeks.  Since I was on my own I could ration the water in the tank on our roof so that I never ran out of water, but that necessitated only taking sponge baths and flushing the toilet only once every three or four days.  My neighbors and many others in homes with more people were not as fortunate.  They ran out of water quickly and then relied on bottled water for drinking and other needs.

In Ramallah fighting didn’t last long.  Most of the month we spent under curfew involved a strange mix of boredom and fear, but the brutality of the invasion can’t be overstated.

Something I will never forget is what happened after the Israeli military left the city.  People came pouring out into the streets, reconnecting with friends and neighbors.  And then people began to clean.  People took brooms and swept the streets, picked up garbage, removed spent bullet casings, and started to restore the city to normalcy within hours.  The sense of communal togetherness in a time of great tragedy and immediately after incredibly violence was amazing to witness.

The military withdrew from Ramallah before it withdrew from either Nablus or Jenin.  When the military left Nablus a few days later I traveled there with two colleagues from Al-Haq to document what had occurred in that city.  We were the first investigative team to enter Nablus after the invasion.

While Jenin received most of the media attention at that time because of the dramatic fighting that occurred in Jenin Refugee Camp, Nablus was harder hit.  Twice as many people died in Nablus as died in Jenin.  While the refugee camp was destroyed in Jenin, and NGOs/government offices were targeted in Ramallah, cultural heritage was targeted in Nablus.  An ancient olive oil soap factory and an ancient Hamman in the old city were both blown up as were several mosques and other historic buildings. 

Soldiers moved through the old city of Nablus by going home to home through holes they broke through the walls of buildings.  A military expert from Human Rights Watch who joined us on our last day in Nablus and who had just come from Jenin stated that the only reason that the physical destruction in Nablus was not worse than the destruction in Jenin was that the buildings were built better so they didn’t collapse even when walls were taken out.

In Nablus I remember several stories.  There was one family who told us about how a woman in their family was killed by an Israeli sniper when she went to retrieve medicine from a window sill.  There was another family who talked about how bodies of Palestinian security personnel killed during the initial days of the invasion were left in the street in front of their home for more than a week because medical personnel were not allowed to enter their neighborhood.  Dogs began to eat the bodies. 

And then there was the Shuby couple.  Their home was demolished while they were inside.  They, the grandparents in the family, survived but were trapped under the rubble in their basement apartment for 8 days.  Eight other members of their family including 3 children, 3 women (one pregnant), and 2 men were killed.  I will never forget their pain.

From Nablus we traveled to Jenin.  One of the Israeli bulldozer drivers who went by the handle Kurdi Bear and who claimed responsibility for destroying much of Jenin Refugee Camp gave an interview to Yediot Aharonot where he talked about his actions in the camp.   A fan of the racist Israeli soccer club Beitar Jerusalem, he bragged about how he had created a stadium in the center of the camp.  Walking into the camp the destruction was shocking.  An area the size of several city blocks had been destroyed. 

As we entered the area we witnessed people pulling the flattened ruins of a wheel chair out from under rubble.  The person who had owned the wheel chair was still under the rubble.  The stench of death was in the air.

I wish that I could say that this was the last time I witnessed destruction on this scale, but the truth is that Defensive Shield and the destruction in Ramallah, Nablus, Jenin, and other cities were just warm ups for later military attacks.  I was in Beirut two weeks after the end of the 2006 Israeli attack on Lebanon and the destruction there made Jenin look like nothing. 

And the destruction of the Dahiya Neighborhood in Beirut led to the formulation of the Dahiya doctrine by the Israeli military.  That is a strategy of asymmetric warfare that justifies the destruction of civilian infrastructure, homes, and neighborhoods. That doctrine was put into practice in Operation Cast Lead in 2009.  When I entered Gaza after that attack the destruction was again unbelievable.  And when I entered Gaza after Operation Protective Edge in 2014 I stood witness to even more destruction, suffering, and death.

In addition to this year marking 15 years since Defensive shield, this month marks the 50th anniversary of the 1967 war and thus 50 years of occupation.  There is no sign that the occupation will end, which means that another large attack is somewhere on the horizon.  When that attack occurs, many will act surprised or will say that while violence is unfortunate, it is somehow inevitable.  But those will be lies. 

Violence isn’t inevitable.  It can be ended.  But ending violence requires ending injustice, ending occupation, ending dispossession, ending the privilege of Jewish Israelis that keeps Palestinians in a second-class status.  Ending violence requires ending Israeli apartheid.   

For those of you who wonder why I focus so much attention on Palestine, know that these stories are only the tip of the iceberg.  When I went to Israel and Palestine as a student in 1996, when I moved to Ramallah in early 2000, I did not think that decades later I would still be involved in this way.  But apartheid doesn’t allow you to look away.  You can’t say you didn’t know, and if you know, how can you not act?