ISRAEL-PALESTINE: Call on Congress to support Gaza aid, end the blockade

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 October. 

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Seven weeks of war between Israel and Hamas has left Gaza in ruins. “The scale of damage…is unprecedented since the beginning of the Israeli occupation in 1967,” according to a UN report, which continues, “All governorates in Gaza witnessed extensive aerial bombardment, naval shelling and artillery fire, resulting in the widespread loss of life and livelihoods. Damage to public infrastructure was also unprecedented, leaving hundreds of thousands of people without adequate services, including electricity, clean water and quality healthcare.”

Financial support for reconstruction is urgently needed. Adequate oversight will be important to ensure that materials are used for their intended purposes, but restrictions should not be so onerous that they tie the hands of those seeking to rebuild. In addition, to end the cycle of violence, underlying causes must be addressed, including the lifting of the Gaza blockade.

In January 2009 the UN Security Council called for “…arrangements and guarantees in Gaza in order to sustain a durable ceasefire and calm, including to prevent illicit trafficking in arms and ammunition and to ensure the sustained re‑opening of the crossing points…” (UNSC Res. 1860).

For Israelis and Palestinians to live in peace and security, it is essential that this and other calls to address root causes be heeded. Hamas and other groups must stop firing rockets, and at the same time, the people of Gaza must be allowed to live normal, free lives. The best way to shut down illicit tunnel traffic is to open the monitored Gaza borders for aid, commerce, and movement of people.

As UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon stated in July, “Going back to the status quo ante won’t solve the problem, it will only defer it for another day. It will not stop the bloodshed, it will make it even worse the next time the cycle rolls over the people of Gaza and plagues the people of Israel. Gaza is an open wound and Band Aids won’t help. There must be a plan after the aftermath that allows Gaza to breathe and heal.”

In the same vein, Israeli Defense Forces Chief of Staff Benny Gantz, while acknowledging the importance of Israel’s security concerns, also reportedly said, “We need to permit the opening of the Strip to goods. In the end, there are 1.8 million people there, with Israel and Egypt surrounding them. These people need to live.”

Recently Rep. Danny Davis (D-IL) wrote, “Now would be a good time, the right time, to end the blockade.” Rep. Keith Ellison (D-MN) and Rep. Barbara Lee (D-CA) had earlier called for a lifting of the blockade in a 2010 letter to the president, and both have since reaffirmed that call – Lee in a written statement in August to a California radio station and Ellison in a July piece in the Washington Post.

As these members of Congress and many others recognize, the security and welfare of Israelis and Palestinians depends on addressing root causes.

Tell Congress: For the peace and security of all people in the region, Israelis and Palestinians alike, Gaza must be rebuilt and the blockade must be lifted. Use this link provided by our partners at the Maryknoll Office for Global Concerns to ask your members of Congress to support funding for Gaza needs. Insist that while security controls are necessary, they should not obstruct the urgent delivery of aid, and should allow for commerce and movement of people. And ask them to make public a statement calling for an end to the Gaza blockade now.

Use this link to send a message to your members of Congress now.

REFLECTION: Like Malala, we need to reach out and enter the kingdom of God

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

You are aware, I’m sure, of the Nobel Peace Prize that was awarded this past Friday. It was a joint award, two people got it, but most extraordinary, part of it, is the teenage girl from Pakistan — 17 years old, the youngest Nobel laureate since the prize began to be given out in 1901. The paper wrote about her, and the article that I read, it started with, “Who is Malala [Yousafzai]?” And some of us may wonder that, but in this instance, it wasn’t just trying to find out, out of curiosity, who Malala is.

These were Taliban killers who came on the crowded bus in northwestern Pakistan two years ago, and when they found out who Malala was, which of the kids [were] being taken to school, they shot her, put a bullet into her head. Malala had been speaking out as an impassioned advocate for the education of girls. She was determined that she herself would get an education, and she found it evil, unjust, that in that country, there was this extremist group, the Taliban, who were trying to prevent girls from being educated.

Malala Yousafzai

As you may remember, she survived. She was taken to England to get out of danger and to get the best medical care, and the doctors were able to save her life. They placed a titanium plate in her head and now, two years later, she is back in school and has, over the time since that incident and since her recovery, continued her advocacy. She has met with President [Barack] Obama, with the queen of England, and even addressed the United Nations. Now she’s the youngest recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize….

To read this entire article, click here.

REGIONAL NEWS: Pax Christi Metro NY coordinator pleased with Nobel peace prize recipients

Currents correspondent Michelle Powers speaks with Rosemarie Pace, the Director of Pax Christi New York.

RESOURCE: Just 24 hours left to order your Advent reflection booklet for 2014!

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Order today to guarantee your copies of the 2014 Advent booklet! Printing starts tomorrow, so you have about 24 hours to get you pre-orders in and reserve how many copies you think you’ll need.

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Click here to order now.

IRAQ-SYRIA: Even if we defeat the Islamic State, we’ll still lose the bigger war

By Andrew J. Bacevich

Andrew J. Bacevich, the George McGovern fellow at Columbia University’s School of International and Public Affairs, is writing a history of U. S. military involvement in the Greater Middle East.

n-US-AIRSTRIKE-large570As America’s efforts to “degrade and ultimately destroy” Islamic State militants extend into Syria, Iraq War III has seamlessly morphed into Greater Middle East Battlefield XIV. That is, Syria has become at least the 14th country in the Islamic world that U.S. forces have invaded or occupied or bombed, and in which American soldiers have killed or been killed. And that’s just since 1980.

Let’s tick them off: Iran (1980, 1987-1988), Libya (1981, 1986, 1989, 2011), Lebanon (1983), Kuwait (1991), Iraq (1991-2011, 2014-), Somalia (1992-1993, 2007-), Bosnia (1995), Saudi Arabia (1991, 1996), Afghanistan (1998, 2001-), Sudan (1998), Kosovo (1999), Yemen (2000, 2002-), Pakistan (2004-) and now Syria. Whew.

With our 14th front barely opened, the Pentagon foresees a campaign likely to last for years. Yet even at this early date, this much already seems clear: Even if we win, we lose. Defeating the Islamic State would only commit the United States more deeply to a decades-old enterprise that has proved costly and counterproductive.

Back in 1980, President Jimmy Carter touched things off when he announced that the United States would use force to prevent the Persian Gulf from falling into the wrong hands. In effect, with the post-Ottoman order created by European imperialists — chiefly the British — after World War I apparently at risk, the United States made a fateful decision: It shouldered responsibility for preventing that order from disintegrating further. Britain’s withdrawal from “east of Suez,” along with the revolution in Iran and the Soviet intervention in Afghanistan, prompted Washington to insert itself into a region in which it previously avoided serious military involvement…

Click here to read the entire article.

PAX CHRISTI INTERNATIONAL: Pax Christi marks 70 years of pursuing peace

By Tom Roberts, NCR

Jose Henriquez gestures during an interview in Washington Sept. 23. Looking on are Bishop Kevin Dowling and Marie Dennis. (CNS/Bob Roller)

Jose Henriquez gestures during an interview in Washington Sept. 23. Looking on are Bishop Kevin Dowling and Marie Dennis. (CNS/Bob Roller)

Pax Christi International was born 70 years ago of two people, one a bishop, the other a laywoman, who advanced ideas that were jarringly dissonant in the context of that time.

The bishop, Pierre-Marie Théas, of Montauban in the south of France, was a rare member of the hierarchy to both publicly protest the deportation of Jews from France and urge prayers for the enemy, Germany. Marthe Dortel-Claudot, who lived in the south of France with her husband and children, found herself thinking about praying for the enemy. Pondering the suffering of the German people, she wrote in her journal, “Jesus died for everyone. Nobody should be excluded from one’s prayer.”

The two, sharing a vision of reconciliation, went on to form the organization Pax Christi. Germany and France live in peace today; Europe has achieved union and nonviolent means of settling differences. Pax Christi, however, has not gone out of business. The purveyors of violence are endlessly inventive. From child soldiers to the utter detachment of drones, from crude IEDs to sophisticated bombs, from oil wars to the formation of caliphates, those who use violent means no longer observe rules or boundaries.

Perhaps the reality that most solidly links the decades of Pax Christi’s existence is the understanding that confronting violence is a complex and difficult undertaking and involves advancing ideas that are at odds with the prevailing thinking of the day.

Pax Christi has grown increasingly global in its reach, and that is reflected in its three principal leaders: co-presidents Marie Dennis, a laywoman from Washington, D.C., and Bishop Kevin Dowling of Rustenburg, South Africa; and General Secretary José Henríquez, a native of El Salvador who now lives in Brussels, where Pax Christi is headquartered. The co-president arrangement, reflective of the founders, was instituted in 2007…

Click here to read the entire story.

AFGHANISTAN: International Day of Nonviolence in Afghanistan

Dr_Hakimby Dr. Hakim

Kabul–“I woke up with the blast of another bomb explosion this morning,” Imadullah told me. “I wonder how many people were killed.” Imadullah, an 18 year old Afghan Peace Volunteer (APV) from Badakhshan, had joined me at the APVs’ Borderfree Community Centre of Nonviolence.

The news reported that at least three Afghan National Army soldiers were killed in the suicide bomb attack, in the area of Darulaman. Coincidentally, the Afghan Peace Volunteers (APVs) had planned to be at the Darulaman Palace that same morning.  To commemorate Gandhi’s birthday and the International Day of Nonviolence, we wanted to form a human circle of peace at the Palace, which is a war ruin.  But the police, citing general security concerns, had denied us permission.

Imadullah and Rauff, another APV member, continued discussing the attack. Rauff believes that the latest string of suicide bombings in Kabul have been in response to actions of the newly formed government. “Three days ago, they signed the U.S./Afghanistan Bilateral Security Agreement (BSA),” Rauff explained. “The Taliban condemned the new government, now led by former World Bank official President Ashraf Ghani and ex-warlord Vice President General Dostum, for signing the agreement.”

Listening to Imadullah’s and Rauff’s concerns over the latest string of attacks, I wondered if I myself had become inured to this sober Afghan reality of perpetual war.

We were soon joined by Zekerullah and Abdulhai who had gathered local street children at Borderfree Community Centre, so we could supervise their walk to a nearby park, the alternative place for our event.

“I’m taking music lessons and if I’m good enough, the teachers say I may be able to participate in Afghan Star (like the American Idol show) in the future!” said Nur Rahman, after belting out a sweet Afghan love song for me.

“We wish for a life without wars,” Mehdi, a boot polisher in our street kid program, said emphatically as we set off towards the park. “He’s telling the truth!” echoed another street kid walking just behind him.

Most people outside Afghanistan are too far away to preoccupy themselves over what the former British envoy to Afghanistan called an ‘eye wateringly expensive exercise in military futility’.

Whereas seemingly everyone understands that wars are futile, U.S./NATO and Afghan politicians have nevertheless wired their media and general public to believe that this war, in Afghanistan, is necessary. Through the BSA, they have agreed to keep long term U.S./NATO military bases in Afghanistan. The decision will assuredly prolong war and violence.

Governments involved in Afghanistan spend a vast bulk of their borrowed or tax-payer money not on food, water, shelter, education, health and other basic human needs, but on the machine of war.

Most of us assume that our leaders must know what to do, even if they have failed to bring genuine security after 13 years. I feel a deep frustration.

On our way to the park, street vendors and shopkeepers asked us, “What’s the occasion? Why the blue scarves?” Ordinary Afghans, trying to eke out a meagre living in a country with at least 36% unemployment, seem eager for some action, some change.

The blue scarves looked strikingly beautiful along the pot-holed road. “We’re a group of drug addicts!” Mirwais replied playfully. “No, we’re a group for nonviolence!” Mirwais is another street kid who has seen numerous people addicted to opium living under bridges in Kabul. Unable to find work in Afghanistan, many Afghan men go to Iran where they work illegally as labourers. There, they get addicted to drugs.

The APVs couldn’t help but feel weighed down by the serious irony of promoting nonviolence in a country where the world’s most powerful nations have gathered to wage war.

After Mohammad Qawa and Zebiullah had lifted our spirits with their guitar-accompanied singing, I took the loud-hailer to offer a word of encouragement.

“When I am abroad, I hear that you are the generation of war.” I sensed uneasiness in the air. Some of the youth responded in what I’ve noticed is a common Afghan way of coping with their harsh lives – they laughed.

“But well done to all of you for coming today to show that no, you are not a generation of war. You are a generation of love!” I didn’t expect the rapturous, supportive applause!

“On the International Day of Nonviolence,” I added, “we remember a quote from Gandhi, that ‘where there is love, there is life.’” I thought of how my Afghan friends among the Peace Volunteers have demonstrated love and affirmed life, and felt grateful.

The energetic little ones together with the sober youth and adults joined hands as they formed a circle, Pashtuns, Tajiks, Hazaras and other Afghan ethnicities, each wearing the Borderfree blue scarf signifying our belief that we’re all human beings living under the same blue sky!

Celebrating the International Day of Nonviolence in Kabul, Afghanistan.

Celebrating the International Day of Nonviolence in Kabul, Afghanistan.

“When I see this circle of children and youth,” Abdulhai told the group, “I feel excited about the possibility of change.”

We need this excitement to generate more and more circles of friendship, along with many more relationships that can help us understand that our governments have unfortunately disguised perpetual war as peace.

The Presidents, Prime Ministers, CEOs and extremists like the Taliban will fight on and on, drop and lay bombs to kill mostly civilians, escalate hate, anger, hunger and thirst, rape our earth of its minerals, gases and oil, and warm our globe to extinction. They are increasing violence in Afghanistan, Gaza, Iraq and Syria, in the drug war in Mexico, on Wall Street against the 99%, through the tar sands in Canada, in student debt loans everywhere….

We need to work hard, cheerfully and patiently, to reach the human family with a simple message that we the people no longer like authoritarian, weapon-wielding profiteers. Too many of us are dying.

Our leaders inhabit an unequal system that is driven by the same corrupt power and egos that gripped ancient kings and queens. To hoard money and power for themselves, they are repeating the violent acts of history, and we can no longer satisfactorily explain to our children why they need to suffer for the elite.

We cannot wait. Gandhi said, “Be the change you wish to see in the world!” So, I readily join the APVs’ mission: to abolish war.

We understand that ‘we are the ones we’ve been waiting for’.

“Wake up! We are not the war generation. We are the generation of love!”

Dr. Hakim, (Dr. Teck Young, Wee) is a medical doctor from Singapore who has done humanitarian and social enterprise work in Afghanistan for the past 9 years, including being a friend and mentor to the Afghan Peace Volunteers, an inter-ethnic group of young Afghans dedicated to building non-violent alternatives to war. He is the 2012 recipient of the International Pfeffer Peace Prize.