REFLECTION: A teacher in Kabul

Kathy Kellyby Kathy Kelly
Pax Christi USA Teacher of Peace

Here in Kabul, one of my finest friends is Zekerullah, who has gone back to school in the 8th grade although he is an18-year old young man who has already had to learn far too many of life’s harsh lessons.

Years ago and miles from here, when he was a child in the province of Bamiyan, and before he ran away from school, Zekerullah led a double life, earning income for his family each night as a construction crew laborer, and then attempting to attend school in the daytime.  In between these tasks the need to provide his family with fuel would sometimes drive him on six-hour treks up the mountainside, leading a donkey on which to load bags of scrub brush and twigs for the trip back down. His greatest childhood fear was of that donkey taking one disastrous wrong step with its load on the difficult mountainside.

Zekerullah going to school in Bamiyan.

Zekerullah going to school in Bamiyan.

And then, after reaching home weary and sleep deprived and with no chance of doing homework, he would, at times, go to school without having done his homework, knowing that he would certainly be beaten.  When he was in seventh grade, his teacher punished him by adding ten more blows each day he came to school without his homework, so that eventually he was hit sixty times in one day.   Dreading the next day when the number would rise to seventy, he ran away from that school and never returned.

Now Zekerullah is enrolled in another school, this time in Kabul, where teachers still beat the students.  But Zekerullah can now claim to have learned much more, in some cases, than his teachers.

Much to the surprise of his environmental studies teacher, Zekerullah has a strong grasp of issues related to the environment.  For the past two years, living with the Afghan Peace Volunteers, he has occupied himself with presentations and conversations about global warming, climate change, and environmental degradation.  He cares deeply about the issue.  Last winter, I was with him as he watched the entire BBC Blue Planet series of videos, and realized that he hungers for more information and deepened understanding about issues hitting far beyond his own beleaguered country.

When his new teacher, a teacher accustomed to beating pupils, asked the class elementary questions about the environment, Zekerullah had definitely done his homework.  But among his other recent studies were the history of nonviolent movements, led by people like Gandhi and Dr. Martin Luther King, to resist oppressive forces.   So without calling any attention to his plans, Zekerullah decided to join the line of students singled out for punishment, in his environmental studies class, even though he wasn’t at fault and didn’t deserve to be punished.  The teacher was befuddled.  Zekerullah so clearly knew the answers.

Zekerullah calmly explained to the teacher that he also knew, from experience, that beating students doesn’t help them learn, that he himself had lost four years of studies because he could no longer bear the beatings.  He respectfully asked the teacher to beat him instead of the next seven students in the row.

The teacher obliged, administering blows to Zekerullah while his fellow students began to wonder about and admire Zekerullah’s unusual stance.  Perhaps for the first time in a long while, everyone in that class was learning something.

For several weeks, the teacher was confronted with Zekerullah’s quiet insistence that he be allowed to take the blows in place of students who hadn’t studied.  The teacher tried to ignore him and belittle him. Once, the teacher punished him and a few others with the escalated punishment of using a rattan cane to inflict the blows.  Adding salt to the wound, the teacher even failed Zekerullah in the mid-year exams, though Zekerullah said he knew the answers and had no trouble finishing the exam.

I asked him what other students thought about his choices.  He said that some of them wanted to spare him from being punished, and so they began to study more and complete their homework. He isn’t sure what impact his actions have had. Zekerullah isn’t inclined to brag.  But he surely has affected me.

He is also affecting other vulnerable young Afghans.  Over the past two years, Zekerullah has worked hard to improve his studies, and with the literacy he has acquired, he now volunteers to teach a literacy class at the APVs Borderfree Center for about 20 street kids who have not had the opportunity to go to school regularly.  He and several companions have organized other aspects of the “Street Kids” program, visiting children in their homes and helping distribute oil and rice to each family so that the children can stop working on the streets.

Zekerullah tells me that the current education system in Afghanistan is not a good learning environment. His story alerts educators, officials and the international community to understand that the relatively small funds spent on badly-constructed new school buildings won’t suffice to provide a good education for the young Afghan population. Moreover, the predominantly militarized approach of aid and development, even in the field of education, reinforces the prevalent methods of teaching by force and punishment.

Zekerullah yearns for knowledge as well as justice, and he’s willing to sacrifice for both.  I want to learn from him.

Kathy Kelly (Kathy@vcnv.org) co-coordinates Voices for Creative Nonviolence http://www.vcnv.org.

REFLECTION: We must find ways other than violence to build peace in the world

Bishop Thomas Gumbletonby Bishop Thomas Gumbleton
Pax Christi USA Teacher of Peace

As you are aware, I’m sure, every time we listen to the Scripture readings for our liturgy, we should do that within the context of what’s happening within our personal lives, in our community, our world, so that we can hear God’s word and reflect on it in a way that helps us to determine how we should react to what’s going on.

building peaceAnd I must confess that these Scripture lessons are very important for me because they give me a hope, a sense of what can happen even out of evil, out of hatred and violence and destruction. Something good could happen, but we have to listen, and to follow the way of Jesus. At first, then, I was filled with sadness this week because, as we all know, once more, we’re going to war again. Well, we say we’re going to be bombing, and we’ll just send some troops in to train those who can fight on the ground, but that’s how we got into Vietnam. And that’s how we’ve been getting into every war ever since.

My sadness reminded me of Pope John Paul [II] — St. John Paul now — during the last year of his life, the last international trip he made just a few months before he died when he was suffering so terribly. And we all remember seeing him suffering from the ravages of Parkinson’s disease. But he went to Spain, and a reporter wrote about his first evening there, when John Paul was speaking to a crowd of hundreds of thousands of young people…

To read this entire article, click here.

REFLECTION: Confessions of a military skeptic

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by Thomas Reese, S.J., NCR

When it comes to the use of the military, I am neither a hawk nor a pacifist. I am a skeptic.

One of my earliest memories was overhearing my parents talking about the Korean War. I was sitting under a large sycamore tree in our backyard reading a comic book about World War II. I remember being shocked to learn that war was real; it was not just something in comic books.

Growing up Catholic in the 1950s meant that you heard about the horrors perpetrated by atheistic Communists against believers. At school, we even practiced getting under our desks in case of a nuclear attack. I remember discussing whether a first strike against the Soviet Union and China was morally permissible. People unwilling to consider such a strike were considered soft on communism. “If nuclear war is inevitable, let’s make sure we win, even if we do lose a half dozen major cities.” This strategy seemed both heroic and realistic to my young mind.

The Vietnam War became my generation’s struggle to defeat communism and protect Vietnamese Catholics from torture and slaughter. It seemed a righteous cause in the defense of a people under attack. Only later did I learn of inept military leadership, corrupt allies, and how we destroyed villages to save them. At my 50th high school reunion in 2012, we saw the cost as the faces of classmates who had died in that war were projected on a screen.

After thousands died, North Vietnam won. Catholics are still harassed, but the predicted bloodbath did not take place. The country turned to capitalism and trade, and rather than being aligned with China as predicted, the two countries became competitors. Years later, as I watched the Berlin Wall come down, I thanked God that those nuclear realists never had their fingers on the button….

Read the entire article by clicking here.

VIDEO: “How does this end?” questions military intervention

from Brave New Films

Since 1980, we have militarily intervened at least 35 times in more than 27 countries. We keep bombing, we continue spending trillions of dollars, but we’re no safer as a result…

ISRAEL-PALESTINE: Call on Congress to support justice for Palestinian prisoners held by Israel

from the Faith Forum on Middle East Policy

NOTE: Pax Christi USA is a member of the Faith Forum. This is their “Third Thursday for Israel-Palestine” action for September. 

israel-palestineviolencebutton-smallWhile peacemakers everywhere welcome the ceasefire in Gaza, the underlying issues that led to the war remain. The Israeli occupation of Palestinian land, including the Gaza blockade, must end. And the human rights violations inherent in the occupation must not be allowed to continue unchecked. Keep these concerns before legislators this month, by joining in the World Week for Peace in Palestine Israel, held annually in September and sponsored by the Palestine Israel Ecumenical Forum of the World Council of Churches.  This year’s theme is prisoners.

Around 4800 Palestinians were in Israeli custody as of March 2014, according the Palestinian Centre for Human Rights (PCHR). Palestinians detained by Israel face a host of concerns including the practice of administrative detention, and the treatment of minors.

Administrative detention, as explained by the Israeli human rights organization, B’Tselem, “is detention without charge or trial that is authorized by administrative order rather than by judicial decree.” As of the end of July 2014, Israel held 446 Palestinians under administrative detention according to B’Tselem which notes:

Israel’s use of administrative detention blatantly violates the restrictions of international law. Israel carries it out in a highly classified manner that denies detainees the possibility of mounting a proper defense. Moreover, the detention has no upper time limit. Over the years, Israel has placed thousands of Palestinians in administrative detention for prolonged periods of time, without trying them, without informing them of the charges against them, and without allowing them or their counsel to examine the evidence. In this way, the military judicial system ignores the right to freedom and due process, the right of defendants to state their case, and the presumption of innocence, all of which are protections clearly enshrined in both Israeli and international law.

The treatment of Palestinian minors by Israel is also of deep concern. A 2013 UNICEF report found, “The ill-treatment of children who come in contact with the military detention system appears to be widespread, systematic and institutionalized…” A review one year later by Military Court Watch acknowledged some attention had been given to UNICEF’s findings, but concluded that the original negative assessment still held.

B’Tselem reports, “At the end of July 2014, 192 Palestinian minors were held in Israeli prisons as security detainees and prisoners. Another 19 Palestinian minors were held in Israel Prison Service facilities for being in Israel illegally.”   And they highlight some of the problems facing these Palestinian minors:

The presence of parents at the interrogation – a right granted to Israeli minors – is not mentioned at all in the relevant military law, and Palestinian minors are often interrogated alone without even having had an opportunity to talk to a lawyer. Furthermore, military law has no appropriate rules for the arrest and interrogation of minors. In addition, the army typically hauls these minors out of bed in the middle of the night to arrest them, even when the interrogation is not deemed urgent. And contrary to Israeli law, which requires that every detainee who is a minor must be brought before a judge within 24 hours – and for those under age 14, within 12 hours – the rules in the territories permit postponement of a minor’s appearance before a judge until the eighth day of his detention, precisely the same as for an adult detainee.

Contact your senators and representative today to raise these concerns. Ask them to bring to the attention of Israeli government officials the issue of Palestinian prisoners in Israeli custody. If they will be traveling to the region soon, ask them to address these concerns in person, otherwise, ask them to contact the Israeli Ambassador to the United States.

Furthermore, ask them to speak and act for a just peace by:

  • Insisting on an end to the Israeli occupation of Palestinian land, including an end to the Gaza blockade.
  • Recognizing that U.S. diplomatic and financial support enable the occupation. The U.S. provides over $3 billion per year in military aid to Israel.
  • Conditioning military aid to Israel on its compliance with U.S. law and policy. Questions must be raised about how U.S. military aid to Israel is being used in order to ensure that it is not enabling human rights violations—including prisoners’ rights—or being used in ways that contradict U.S. policy.

For a just and secure future for Palestinians and Israelis, contact your elected officials today.

___________

Sample Script for letter, email or call:

Dear Senator/Representative,

I am contacting you to draw your attention to the issue of Palestinian prisoners held by Israel, one important dimension of the unresolved Israeli/Palestinian situation. This issue raises a number of concerns, including the practice of administrative detention and the treatment of minors.

Administrative detention, as explained by the Israeli human rights organization, B’Tselem, “is detention without charge or trial that is authorized by administrative order rather than by judicial decree.” As of the end of July 2014, Israel held 446 Palestinians under administrative detention according to B’Tselem. They note that, “Israel’s use of administrative detention blatantly violates the restrictions of international law. Israel carries it out in a highly classified manner that denies detainees the possibility of mounting a proper defense. Moreover, the detention has no upper time limit…”

Regarding the treatment of minors, B’Tselem reports, “At the end of July 2014, 192 Palestinian minors were held in Israeli prisons as security detainees and prisoners. Another 19 Palestinian minors were held in Israel Prison Service facilities for being in Israel illegally.” And they highlight some of the problems facing these Palestinian minors: “The presence of parents at the interrogation – a right granted to Israeli minors – is not mentioned at all in the relevant military law, and Palestinian minors are often interrogated alone without even having had an opportunity to talk to a lawyer. Furthermore, military law has no appropriate rules for the arrest and interrogation of minors. In addition, the army typically hauls these minors out of bed in the middle of the night to arrest them, even when the interrogation is not deemed urgent. And contrary to Israeli law, which requires that every detainee who is a minor must be brought before a judge within 24 hours – and for those under age 14, within 12 hours – the rules in the territories permit postponement of a minor’s appearance before a judge until the eighth day of his detention, precisely the same as for an adult detainee.”

As an American who values due process, and as a person of faith, I urge you to raise these concerns with Israeli officials – in person, if you will be visiting the region soon, or by contacting the Israeli Ambassador to the U.S.

While I raise these particular concerns, I hope that more broadly you will work for a just peace by supporting an end to the Israeli occupation of Palestinian land–including an end to the Gaza blockade, by recognizing that U.S. diplomatic and financial support enable the occupation, and by conditioning military aid to Israel on its compliance with U.S. law and policy. I hope that you will raise questions in Congress about how U.S. military aid to Israel is being used in order to ensure that it is not enabling human rights violations—including prisoners’ rights—or being used in ways that contradict U.S. policy.

I appreciate your consideration of my concerns, and I thank you for your service.

Respectfully,

[Your name]

VIDEO: The Church and war, a look at the “humanitarian intervention” norm

The following video is from Rome Reports.