June 14, 2007


June 8 marked the 40th anniversary of the heaviest attack on an American ship inflicting the highest number of casualties since World War II. The USS Liberty was an intelligence vessel, patrolling international waters in the Eastern Mediterranean Sea.

The day was clear and sunny; the ship flying the American flag, as was standard. Suddenly and simultaneously, out of that clear azure sky and sea came a two-pronged attack by Israeli air and naval forces. Napalm, gunfire and missiles rained hell on Liberty’s crew for two hours while Israeli torpedo boats closed in.

In that two hours, 34 American sailors died. Another 172 were injured

The Liberty crew managed to send an SOS, heard by nearby U.S. Sixth Fleet aircraft carriers. Fighter planes launched immediately, however turned back on orders from President Johnson. Naval personnel listening to radio relays heard Johnson say “I don’t care if the ship sinks, I’m not going to embarrass an ally.”

Israel claimed it was a case of “mistaken identity.” You know, friendly fire. Israel’s ludicrous explanation was that pilots thought the USS Liberty was El Quseir, an Egyptian vessel having 1/4 of Liberty’s displacement and half the beam. El Quseir was 180 feet shorter and very differently configured. The Liberty had her name clearly written in English, while the Egyptian ship would have displayed Arabic script.

There are several motives for Israel’s deliberate attack: to prevent the USS Liberty from transmitting intelligence pertaining to massacres by Israeli troops which were taking place in the Golan Heights and that the 1967 War did indeed result from a pre-emptive strike by Israel.
The attack could have been used to draw the U.S. into the 1967 War as well. Most of the Liberty’s survivors believe that Israel’s goal was to sink the ship and kill everyone aboard. Had there been no survivors, the attack could have been pinned on an Arab country.

Ward Boston, Jr. was the chief legal counsel to the Navy Court of Inquiry investigating the USS Liberty attack. He is also a U.S. Navy veteran, having served on the USS Yorktown.

In an editorial published by The San Diego Union Tribune, Boston stated then President Johnson and Secretary of Defense McNamara ordered the Navy Court of Inquiry to conclude the attack was accidental.

The late Admiral Isaac C. Kidd, the Court of Inquiry’s president, was given only one week to gather evidence for the investigation, although a proper inquiry would have taken six months, according to Boston.

“We boarded the crippled ship at sea and interviewed survivors. The evidence was clear. We both believed with certainty that this attack was a deliberate effort to sink an American ship and murder its entire crew,” Boston wrote. “I saw the bullet-riddled American flag that had been raised by the crew after their first flag had been shot down completely.”

For the official record, Admiral Kidd was ordered to rewrite part of the Court’s findings, including striking Lt. Lloyd Painter’s testimony in which he stated three life rafts filled with seriously wounded sailors were gunned down at close range by Israeli torpedo boats.

Crew members’ tombstones are engraved “...died in the Eastern Mediterranean,” rather than “killed in action.”

The USS Liberty’s Commander, William L. McGonagle was awarded the Medal of Honor in a quiet ceremony at the Washington Navy Yard, not in the customary White House setting. To this day, survivors have never been allowed to testify publicly. Nor have intelligence officers who received real-time Hebrew translations of Israeli commanders ordering pilots to sink “the American ship.”

Even now, the mere mention of the USS Liberty creates a furor. The town of Grafton, Wisconsin decided to name their new $1 million library–to be built with private donations and an $83,000 federal contribution–the USS Liberty Memorial Library.

Days later, Jewish community leaders cried anti-Semitism. An angry letter from one rabbi stated the name was “insulting to Jews.” Not surprisingly, the $83,000 federal money was put on hold. Even the priest at Grafton’s Catholic Church came out in opposition to the name, stating “The USS Liberty has become a symbol of hate.”

Ironically, the University of Wisconsin’s library was officially renamed the Golda Meir Library in 1979.

Survivors of the USS Liberty attack, their families and the families of those killed gathered in Washington, D.C. last week to demand a fair congressional inquiry, a plea which presumably fell on deaf ears.

While those family members seek justice, a small city in Wisconsin seeks to commemorate Liberty’s name and conscientious members of the American public seek the truth, their killers are still being called “God’s Chosen People.”

While I take time to honor those sailors who lost their lives over 40 years ago, some wannabe nationalist in New Madison claims I have “cheapened the sacrifice” of U.S. troops. While I speak out against an Israeli-driven U.S. policy and our appeasement of the Jewish State which has cost thousands of U.S. lives, I am being compared to Adolf Hitler and Osama Bin Laden. (Contrary to what some believe, I actually don’t mind the comparison. It merely reflects the intellect of the one doing the comparing.)

While I continue to speak out against the second-most powerful lobby in America–one that promotes the interests of a foreign government at the expense of U.S. resources, both material and human–the “real” patriots are pledging allegiance to Zionism. Indeed, Mr. Brown, you’re a regular Audie Murphy–although I doubt you know who he was.

Patriotism, for those who may be confusing the term with blind nationalism, means honoring your war dead and seeking justice for their families even if it means “embarrassing an ally.” It also means pursuing policies beneficial to one’s country, free from the yoke of foreign domination.

June 7, 2007

For Taha

Recent events have forced one particular travel memory to the forefront of my thoughts. I see his doomed eyes glaring at me, haunting me.

He was someone that no one should have to see, yet everyone should have to see him. Everyone who said to heck with a cease fire in the Middle East; Israel has to defend itself. Everyone who blindly supports our war on Iraq. Everyone who thinks they know the meaning of sacrifice.

Everyone who isn’t aware there are some things worse than death.

It was my second trip to the Middle East in less than five months. I went to Jordan Hospital to visit wounded Palestinians; victims in the latest round of Israeli attacks. The lucky ones had made it to Amman for more advanced treatment. The young men in the first floor room were recovering.

All were cheered by a visit from a foreigner and a few were even able to talk and joke a little. One of them, upon learning I was American, feigned shock and attempted to hide an 8X10 of Saddam Hussein on the wall. It was one of several photos of the since ousted Iraqi President. I discovered why he was so popular among the injured: he was paying for their medical treatment. I attempted to visit the Palestinian ward again after the fall of Baghdad in 2003, but everyone was gone. They had been sent packing, no matter what their condition. Just one of the little-known consequences of regime change.

After chatting with the patients several more minutes, they suggested I go see Taha Abu Snineneh. I felt a wave of dread and my hands were suddenly cold. I had heard about Taha, the mortally wounded man that was alive only because of the myriad machines he was hooked to. I stalled for awhile, then acquiesced. It was the least I could do for him, pay him a visit.
I am not a poet, but composed the following almost immediately after leaving Taha’s room. It was the only way I could process the trauma.

Breathe In
Barely hearing my own footsteps in the silent hall
Breathe Out
Barely smelling ruined flesh in the sterile pall
Breathe In
Barely seeing doctors pass in their endless rush
Breathe Out
Barely feeling my own body in this deathly hush
Breathe In
Just a few more steps my God, it seems so long
Breathe Out
Just a few more minutes pray God will keep me strong
Breathe In
You musn't see the tears of pity or anger in my eyes
Breathe Out
Though only the machines now express your silent cries
Breathe In
Your broken, crumpled body lies still as I draw near
Breathe Out
Just your eyes move slowly to see who has come here
Breathe In
Struggling to form a word the only sound is silence
Breathe Out
You bravely fought for life and land but only met with violence
Breathe In
And only man's machines and tubes now fill your lungs with air
Breathe Out
Powerless to offer comfort all I do is stare
Breathe In
I do not speak your language and I put you in this cell
Breathe Out
Bought the missles and the fire that made this living hell
Breathe In
I wonder if you hate me seeing torment in your eyes
Breathe Out
I wonder if you know I too am paralyzed
Breathe In
You know I am American but I am not to blame
Breathe Out
I tell you with my quiet eyes that we are just the same
Breathe In
And so I bend and gently kiss your pale and lifeless hand
Breathe Out
Then turn and curse the cowards who stole much more than your land.

Taha Abu Snineneh died three days later.

False Prophets and the Deception of Many

"Prophecy Conference Offered At Sugar Grove Bible Church," the headline jumped at me. Curiosity piqued, I drove to Tipp City just to see what all the fuss was about.

I walked in, was greeted with a handshake and handed a bulletin outlining the evening’s program. I looked at it and thought there must be some mistake. The graphic on the front depicted a large Star of David set against a scroll. I glanced around, thinking I had gone to a synagogue by mistake.

No, there was a large cross behind a pulpit and the altar in front bearing the words "This Do In Remembrance of Me." No wait. Upon the altar set a menorah complete with blue candles and an Israeli flag. The irony was astounding: an Israeli flag placed where the body and blood of Christ are offered at communion.

Before the presentation began, four ushers passed collection plates among the crowd of about 60 people. The congregation responded as if it was a traditional offering; digging in wallets, forking over money.

"None of this money will stay with Sugar Grove; all of it will go to the Friends of Israel Ministries," a man reassured the crowd.

Well, that was a relief. I wouldn’t want to see any of their money go to the sick and needy right here in our community.

Dr. David Levy was the guest speaker and his first topic was entitled "The Islamic Invasion of Israel." He started out by comparing the spread of Islam to a cancer, then outlined the Muslim "agenda."

"If Islam gets a foothold here in America, they will claim this land in the name of Allah and start killing non-believers," he stated.

As murmurs and whispers of fear rippled throughout the congregation, I had to wonder who really had the agenda. Someone daring to speak in the name of Christ about another people as a "cancer" is bad enough. Inducing panic by depicting Muslims as people who would kill Christians, Jews and other "infidels" at a moment’s notice is pure hate speech.

Of course the Zionist Christian agenda is no secret. A recent Zogby poll indicates 31% of registered voters adhere to the belief that all Jews must return to what is now called Israel before Jesus Christ can return. It was difficult to discern whether Dr. Levy actually believed this. Most likely, the lecture circuit guys are merely Israeli sympathizers utilizing scare tactics
to manipulate Christian beliefs. It was obviously working here.

Dr. Levy portrays the Palestinian-Israeli conflict as purely religious. Historical and political aspects, including the insertion of a foreign population on Arab land, are ignored. The plight of Palestinian Christians is never mentioned in his black-and-white, good-versus-evil fantasy where God is on Israel’s side and everyone else ends up as vulture feed.

To exacerbate this fallacy, Dr. Levy kept referring to "Allah" as if He were some sort of pagan moon god. The word "Allah" is simply Arabic for "God." Christian Arabs say "Allah." It is like saying Spanish-speakers do not worship the same God because they call him "Dios."
The presentation became more incoherent as it dragged on. I learned that Israel is at the crossroads of three continents. I guess Dr. Levy forgot about the large land mass comprising
Turkey and Syria between present-day Israel and Europe.

The implications of the statement, however, are sinister. Zionists not only desire all Jews go to Israel; they believe in a concept called "Greater Israel" (Eretz Yisrael) which ascribes Old Testament boundaries to modern-day nations. By this ancient biblical land grant, they believe that not only all of Palestine, but parts of Syria, Lebanon and Jordan belong to a Jewish state as well.

Dr. Levy continued, stating the Iraq War is a waste of time because Islam can never coexist with democracy. I suppose when the Palestinians went to the polls, their democratic process didn’t count. Electing Hamas candidates didn’t meet with Western approval. I just wonder how Dr. Levy would explain away Malaysia, a parliamentary democracy whose state religion is Islam?

Also fascinating is Zionist Christians’ contempt for the United Nations. They are irate that a U.N. peacekeeping force will be deployed in Southern Lebanon.

"U.N. stands for United Nothing," Levy quipped. Laughter erupted, ironic because without the so-called "United Nothing," their sacred cow wouldn’t exist.

The presentation was finally over. I stopped by the literature table on my way out, knowing I could not stomach another session before question-and-answer time began. I picked up a magazine entitled "Israel, My Glory." Its cover depicted a graphic photo of an Israeli soldier recovering the bloody corpse of an adult male, his eyes glazed over. "Restraint?" was the glaring headline.

Arabs and Muslims have long been accused of using images of bodies and mortally wounded children as "propaganda." Al-Jazeera, the 24-hour Arabic news channel is "inflammatory" when reporting civilian casualties in Palestine and Iraq.

Yet, littering a pseudo-Christian magazine with pictures of dead Israelis to justify a brutal attack on the Lebanese people, infrastructure, economic and educational institutions is somehow acceptable.

Zionist Christians play loosely with scripture, cherry-picking verses and applying them in a literal context to support their diabolical rhetoric against Arab and Muslim peoples. One biblical prophecy, however, is very clear: "And many false prophets shall rise, and shall deceive many." (Matthew 24:11)

That much was being fulfilled before my very eyes.

"Don't Shoot!"

"Don’t shoot! There’s an American in the back!"

The frantic cry of my taxi driver pierced the air. Our vehicle had come to an abrupt halt as an Israeli soldier jumped from behind a piece of corrugated metal. His M-16 was leveled at the rear window, a few feet from my head.

"There’s an American in the back!" He checked his weapon and demanded my passport. Aloof, I handed it to him without making eye contact. I was too angry to be scared. He thumbed through it and returned it, motioning us to continue.

I wondered what might have happened if there hadn’t been an American in the back. "It wasn’t even a checkpoint," I muttered as I looked over the brown rocky hills surrounding Bethlehem. We continued to the ruins of Herodium, a palace/fortress built in 24 B.C. by King Herod. Each bend in the road introduced sweeping vistas of fields and more rolling hills stretching in every direction. I imagined this landscape hadn’t changed much since Jesus walked here. Too bad I was out of the mood for sightseeing.

Earlier in the day I had seen the place that really mattered: The Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem. The seven-mile trip from Jerusalem had taken the better part of an hour due to Israeli checkpoints. I had to take two different taxis because vehicles with West Bank license plates do not have access to all the roads those bearing Jerusalem identification enjoy.

Arriving at Manger Square, I tentatively stepped out of the taxi and glanced around. The place seemed deserted except for a few Asian tourists and some Palestinian Authority soldiers in blue and black camouflage.

October 2001 wasn’t a popular time to be visiting the Middle East. Three weeks after 9/11 and a year into the intifada, or uprising, sparked by Ariel Sharon’s unsolicited visit to Al-Aqsa Mosque with 1,000 armed men had scared off more sane travelers.

The soldiers stared curiously and smiled. I gave them thumbs up and entered the Church of the Nativity.

There was a service in progress, so I waited on the stone steps leading down to the small grotto where Christ was born. A few minutes later, a procession came down the stairs and I pressed myself against the wall as they passed; the priest led the way into another chamber, leaving behind a heavy aroma of incense.

I approached the silver star representing the spot where Baby Jesus’s manger once stood. Following the custom, I knelt to kiss it, pressing my lips against the cool metal. The moment was beyond comprehension; it would be fully appreciated only after some soul-searching and as a memory...if then.

More surprises were in store as I headed north to Ramallah later in the evening. There was another brutal checkpoint where I had to walk several hundred yards, joining the wave of humanity that was snaking around motionless vehicles. Horns were drowned out by sobbing babies, jostled along with bags of groceries that women were forced to balance as they made their way on foot to the other side of the checkpoint.

Arriving in Ramallah, I got off and joined the bustle of rush hour: people hurrying home from work or school; people buying fresh produce, meat and bread for dinner; people out window shopping.

I stopped at a large Internet Café, complete with a snack bar and a network of new computers. I approached the front desk and a young girl in Western attire greeted me in flawless English. I paid the minimal fee for an hour’s time after which she directed me to a computer and provided me with a city guide book at no extra charge.

I found the Hotel Wehdeh; there may have been two other guests in the whole building and the desk clerk (who doubled as bellman) still refused to take my tip.

A friend in the U.S. had given me a contact in Ramallah before leaving; I called her the following day and we set up a meeting.

I spent the morning walking around town, enjoying the open market, with its hawkers calling out prices of tomatoes, oranges, fresh baked flatbread and a variety of other produce.

I met my contact, a middle-aged lady named Maryam who took me to her apartment on the outskirts of town. She shared the place with her sister and elderly mother. They had prepared me a lavish dinner of whole roasted chicken, rice and abundant locally grown vegetables that are a staple of the Palestinian diet. Rana, a student at nearby Bir Zeit University had also been invited.

As we ate, Rana told of studying under Israeli occupation. Sometimes, there would be a "closure" or temporary sealing off of Ramallah so students could not get to class. Final exams were no excuse. In other universities, classes adhere to a syllabus and plan for each meeting.

"At Bir Zeit, we say ‘if’ we’re in class tomorrow,’" Rana sighed.

After dinner, we drank coffee out on the balcony. It was an upscale Christian neighborhood, so the bombed-out building less than a hundred yards away caught my attention. I commented that it was rather "close to home." Maryam rolled her eyes and threw her hands up. She told of frequent Israeli missile attacks in residential neighborhoods and lamented that she couldn’t even get to Jerusalem for Easter. The checkpoints were unbearable. The last time she had tried it was five years ago when she was detained. Protesting that she was a Christian, she showed the Israeli soldier her cross necklace.

"He spat on me," she whispered.

The Middle East's "Only Democracy?"

"Kaman," several gentleman begged me to drink another cup of thick Arabic coffee, but I had to go. I left the makeshift sidewalk café on a Ramallah side street and started towards my hotel.
I had spent almost two hours in their company after walking by the little place, they had invited me to join them. Although they spoke only broken English, they made me feel as welcome as possible; in Palestinian culture it was their duty and heartfelt privilege to treat guests this way.

I started to cross the street when a car careened around the corner. I jumped back, only to be reassured by a sidewalk vendor, packing his cart of bananas up for the night. He made little calming gestures with his hands saying "No problem, no problem." I smiled and started across the street again. Gunfire. Heavy caliber, close by. I flinched and ducked involuntarily.
Again the vendor made motioned for me to be calm and repeated "No problem, no problem." He was obviously used to the nightly barrages, but for a small-town American, it was rather disconcerting.

The next morning I was on my way back to Jerusalem. Israeli soldiers stopped our minibus when we were halfway there and removed a passenger. He went quietly. I asked the others what had happened and they informed me the man held West Bank identification and was prohibited from entering Jerusalem.

We arrived eventually at the Damascus Gate, just outside the walled city. I wanted to see Al-Aqsa Mosque, but was barred from entering by Israeli soldiers. They told me it was closed to tourists. I wondered who it was open for? It is also closed for Friday prayer if you’re a male between the ages of 15 and 40. So much for religious freedom in the Middle East’s "only democracy."

I wound through the labyrinth of narrow stone streets, past clothing stores, restaurants and fresh baked flatbread piled high on tables. Ahead, a group of robed Arab women scattered suddenly to either side of the corridor. An orthodox Jew on a bicycle, legs outstretched, came coasting down the incline at a high rate of speed. Never having a large stick when I really need one, I moved to the side, too.

Even with my unwieldy fold-out map, it was next to impossible to find the Church of the Holy Sepulcher, built on the site where Christ was entombed for three days. I ducked into a coffee shop, overhung with a thick haze of argeela smoke. The Palestinian proprietor rushed from behind the counter and asked if he could help me. I pointed to the Church on the map, expecting him to draw a few lines and point me in the right direction. He beckoned me to follow him. We walked for about five minutes, making a series of twists and turns that led us deeper into the Old City.

When we came to the massive edifice, I thanked the shopkeeper-turned-tour guide, reaching in my pocket to give him something for his trouble. By the time I looked up, all I saw was his retreating back disappearing into a crowd.

The Church of the Holy Sepulcher was perhaps more soul-stirring than the Church of the Nativity; gigantic mosaic murals depicting scenes from the crucifixion adorned the main sanctuary. Further inside, there was an opening in the floor where I reached through and touched the base of what is reported to be the actual Cross.

There are many different chapels representing the various divisions in Christendom: Armenian, Greek and Syrian Orthodox, Roman Catholic, Egyptian Coptic and Ethiopian. Ironically, it is a Palestinian Muslim family who is entrusted with the keys to the Church due to in-fighting among these groups throughout the centuries.

The tomb of Joseph of Arimathea, who begged Pilate for Jesus’s body is also located inside the Church. Close to the small chapel built over the exact site where Christ’s body was interred, there is a stone on display, rent in two during the upheaval following His death. I knelt in that chapel for several moments, unable to pray, say or think anything.

Outside in the gathering dusk, I bought a few souvenirs. There were gorgeous Bibles with mother-of-pearl covers and elaborate Nativity scenes and crosses carved from local olive wood. I regretted neither my budget nor my small backpack afforded me the opportunity to help the beleaguered shopkeepers more.

Backtracking through the maze of streets, I felt a tug on my hair. I turned around and saw a wide-eyed baby reaching out for another pull, the mother apologizing profusely. I laughed and played with the baby for a moment before continuing to the Damascus Gate.

Taxis, minivans and buses were all gathered; drivers were shouting their respective destinations as people scurried to and fro. I searched for an indication that one might be going the same direction as me; no takers. A minivan pulled alongside me and the young driver leaned forward. "Ramallah?" he asked.

"Gaza," I responded.

He looked like he had seen a ghost and asked me if I was all right.

For the next several minutes, we argued about it. He questioned my sanity, offering one excuse after another why I should not go to the Gaza Strip. It’s too expensive, there’s nothing to do there, you’ll be killed, etc. I turned to walk away, telling him that I would find information elsewhere on how to get there.

He looked exasperated, then resigned. "I can take you to Gaza."

Welcome to Gaza

It was a two-hour journey from Jerusalem to the Gaza Strip.

My driver was an Arab-Israeli named Haithem. Because of this status, he was free to move about the West Bank and Israeli territory; however he would not be permitted to enter Gaza. He tried to deter me from my insane itinerary the whole way.

When we arrived at the border, the Israelis informed us that the computers were down and the border would be closed for an indefinite period. Haithem said if we had to wait more than an hour he was taking me back to Jerusalem. Forty-five minutes later, I was allowed to cross.
After Israeli passport control, I walked a gauntlet of bunkers and concrete barricades in the no-man’s land between Israel proper and the Gaza strip. It was pitch black and I was completely alone.

Momentarily, I saw headlights approaching. A dilapidated yellow taxi pulled up, the window lowered. An old Palestinian man stared at me in disbelief, then his chubby face broke into a broad grin.

"Welcome to Gaza," he beamed.

The conversation during the brief ride into Gaza City was jovial and he brought me to one of the many brand new beachfront hotels. They were built in anticipation of a tourist boom when peace between Israelis and Palestinians seemed eminent. Things were not so optimistic now, and the posh hotels stood empty.

The glossy wood furniture in my room smelled new; it was possible it had never been slept in. I dozed off despite excitement from the trip and the incessant crowing of a rooster.
The phone rang early.

"Miss, your breakfast is ready."

My breakfast? I went downstairs and stared in amazement. A table was set for me; a spread of eggs, sliced fruits, bread and jam arranged expertly. The hotel had pulled out all the stops for its lone guest.

Walking around Gaza City, I found I had attained a sort of celebrity status. Many locals invited me to join them as I walked by outdoor cafes, vying for who would buy me tea or a sandwich. Two men asked where I wanted to go and offered me a ride. One wore an olive drab uniform and cap bearing the Fateh insignia. I went with them to use the Internet and then down to a shelter on the beach where we drank coffee.

The fleeting worry they might be kidnappers was dismissed during the ride; an AK-47 was lying across the backseat at my disposal. I posed for a picture with their sidearms and went to wade in the Mediterranean. It is a crime that this stretch of powdered sandy beach cannot be enjoyed by more tourists. It is one of the softest, whitest and most pristine I have visited.

That evening I found a small pizza parlor, much like those in the U.S., except for everyone was carrying a weapon. I was enjoying my snack when an Israeli F-16 flew over. The locals warned me to leave the area because "you never know when they’re going to bomb." I returned to my hotel and heard the F-16 flying back and forth all night, sometimes lower and louder, other times more distant. Luckily, it never dropped anything; just gave a lot of children a fearful and sleepless night.

The next day I met Hiba and two of her young children. They were on the beach eating baked flatbread with zattar, a common regional spice. They invited me to join them. Although they spoke as much English as I did Arabic, we shared the meal, laughing and talking somehow. She implored me to come home with her to meet the rest of her large family. Her brother-in-law, Mohammad, spoke fluent English, breaking the language barrier. I accompanied them to an ice cream stand; judging from the children’s reactions it was a rare treat.

Mohammad picked me up at my hotel the following day for lunch with his friends in Beit Hanoon, a village around five miles from Gaza City. I was shocked when we arrived; the roads were unpaved, pock-marked from gunfire and heavier weapons. The buildings were hollow shells, uninhabitable as a result of almost daily Israeli missile attacks.

A group of men met us and led us through an enormous orange grove. A scene from 1001 Arabian Nights materialized among the trees: cushions were laid out on the perimeter of a feast including rabbit, doves stuffed with rice; vegetables, fruits and nuts were piled high on shiny metal trays.

I wondered how they had the money for all this, then remembered everything before me was harvested from the land. Elsewhere, succulent oranges lay rotting on the ground. The men explained they were required to export them to Israel exclusively, for a fraction of their actual value.

It was the same principle with the fished-out port. Israel prohibits fisherman from sailing beyond two kilometers from shore. Not a good selection of fish in Gaza seafood markets.
I was completely relaxed as I indulged in the elaborate feast even though most of the men wore pistols. Frequently, they would break from their conversation to offer me more food and ask how I was doing.

This peaceful interlude in the middle of a war-torn land ended all too soon. We bid farewell with warm handshakes and promises to return.

I left Gaza City that evening for Khan Younis Refugee Camp. From there it would be on to Egypt, then back to the States with my world view irrevocably altered.

Khan Younis Refugee Camp

I sat staring at the benign, expectant faces around me. I knew some rudimentary Arabic but now they were questioning me in what sounded like a completely different language. The young boy who had brought me to this table pushed a small cup of coffee towards me.

It was night in Khan Younis refugee camp in the southern Gaza Strip. I had unwittingly caused a fistfight between two cab drivers desperate for my fare. This angelic boy had appeared through the melee, wearing the traditional robe, a dishdashe, and guided me to this group.

I looked at each of them in turn and smiled helplessly. Suddenly an officer in the blue Palestinian Authority uniform approached us. There was a brief exchange and he turned to me, addressing me in perfect English.

Relieved, I asked him where I might find lodging for the night. He ignored the question for the time being.

"Can you understand what they’re saying?" he asked me.

I indicated that I could not, apologizing for not speaking Arabic.

He informed me they had been trying to converse with me in Hebrew. "You are Israeli, aren’t you?"

Before panic closed my throat I managed to croak that I was American.

The officer smiled. "American, Israeli...we don’t care. We love people, we just don’t understand your governments."

That makes two of us. The words that young officer spoke nearly five years ago are truer now than ever. The sickening violence that has claimed the lives of 79 Palestinian and 61 Lebanese civilians, including infants and children, is as unfathomable as it is unjustified. It isn’t making the three captured soldiers any safer; it isn’t helping Israel’s reputation in the international community. A recent poll of European citizens cited Israel as the number one threat to world peace. How prophetic. However, there is one notable exception.

Enter our illustrious president, describing this massacre as self-defense. U.N. Ambassador John Bolton, cast the lone vote against a resolution condemning Israeli aggression, citing it was "unbalanced." Apparently it failed to address the status of the three captured soldiers. For that matter, the 8,238 Palestinians being held in Israeli jails were not mentioned either. But I suppose that would have made it "unbalanced" again.

The Israeli attacks on civilian infrastructure, while larger in scope this time around, are nothing new.

Nidal, the Khan Younis officer, insisted I stay with his large family as a guest. The following day his cousins, one of whom was a paramedic at the Red Crescent hospital, showed me around the sprawling refugee camp. Many people live in concrete hovels that would be condemned anywhere else in the world. A lot of homes lay in rubble from Israeli attacks, the families forced to relocate to tents.

While touring the hospital, I heard horror stories of the effects of curfews and closures. Several women in labor had died at Israeli checkpoints "after hours" while waiting to be allowed to cross. The paramedic described his job as the "most dangerous in Gaza," as he was often shot at while trying to collect wounded in the aftermath of another Israeli military operation. Bullet-riddled ambulances (clearly marked as such) provided proof of his testimony.

Rolling water outages are a health concern as well as a major inconvenience. Families in the camp have one or two hours of running water a day. One young girl was in the middle of laundry when the water cut off. She had to lug the load down three flights of stairs and two blocks away to a neighbor’s whose water had just turned on.

To make matters worse, on my way into the camp I passed by a beautifully irrigated tract of land, complete with grassy lawns and palm trees. It was an Israeli settlement, draining the area’s water supply.

A large group of children followed us as we made our way to the beach. There were yards of barbed wire and an Israeli bunker that prevented us, along with the children of Khan Younis, from going to the beach. One of the boys, a fourteen year-old named Muhammad, told me what happened when he tried to go for a swim.

"Wallahi" (by God), they beat me," he said of the Israeli soldiers. Even as we spoke I could see the glint of the soldiers’ binoculars from the bunker. They were watching us. Another boy wore a crude bandage that looked like sandpaper taped to his head, a souvenir from an Israeli bullet that luckily only grazed him.

I learned that most of camp’s families had been displaced twice, the majority originating from Jaffa, Haifa or other cities further up the coast. They had been refugees once in 1948 when an estimated 750,000-900,000 Palestinians were forced out of their villages when the state of Israel was established. They evacuated again during the 1967 war when an additional 350,000-400,000 Palestinians fled, finally ending up in Gaza.

They feel they are the lucky ones, however. Palestinians living in other countries comprise 55% of the total Palestinian population. Numbering twelve million, they represent the world’s largest percentage of refugees.

"...we just don’t understand your governments." Israel is wreaking havoc in the Middle East, killing and maiming innocent civilians in the name of "self defense." The United States, claiming to be a beacon of freedom and equality in the world supports this line not only in words, but in military and economic aid to the tune of $12 billion a year. As taxpayers, we are all culpable in our support of this brutal apartheid system which persecutes people based on ethnicity and religion. Now that this rogue state has destabilized the entire region, maybe it is time for "regime change."


March 16, 2003 was a clear day in the Rafah refugee camp, Gaza Strip. The young woman from Washington had been there over six weeks with the International Solidarity Movement. The organization is dedicated to protecting Palestinian human rights in the Occupied Territories.

This time, the activists were trying to prevent a barrage of home demolitions. The Israeli Army, using American-made Caterpillar bulldozers, was leveling Palestinian houses. The aggression, they claimed, was necessary in order to widen the barren buffer zone between the Egyptian border and the rest of Gaza. They claimed weapons were being smuggled. To prevent this, they had to render dozens of families homeless.

The bulldozer was headed straight for the home of a pharmacist. The young woman from Washington, sporting a neon orange flak jacket, stood between the advancing machine and the house. In that one moment she stood, beautiful and defiant. A strong protector-figure, defending the defenseless. She didn’t budge. Surely the driver would stop. Maybe he wouldn’t stop for a Palestinian–but for a 23 year-old American girl–he would surely stop.

One moment she stood, beautiful and defiant. The next moment her body lie crumpled and broken, rendered unrecognizable by the crushing force of the bulldozer. Incredibly, the bulldozer then backed up, running over her a second time to make sure the job was finished.

The horrific images played over and over; on special reports and the evening news. The scene became no less sickening for all its repetition. Rachel Corrie became an instant household name.
I wrote an e-mail to my mother from Amman, Jordan, where I was living at the time. I expressed my outrage at the tragedy, admiration for Rachel mixed with hope that at least now the American public would pay attention to what was going on in Palestine.

I was aghast at her response: "Who is Rachel Corrie?"

"Who is Rachel Corrie?" Apparently, her murder was given only passing coverage in mainstream American media, if at all. A blurb or two in a few newspapers. A ten-second sound byte in the middle of a newscast, when most people get up to grab another cup of coffee.

But the cover-up of Rachel Corrie’s senseless death was far worse than a crime of omission. Killings in the Middle East–particularly when the perpetrators are Israeli–are routinely overlooked by American media. In Rachel’s case, however, repression of fact reached conspiratorial proportions.

The Israeli government brought no charges, ruling Rachel’s death "accidental." A House bill calling for a U.S. investigation died in committee. However, the greatest evidence of a full-scale information blackout regarding the life and death of Rachel Corrie was the attempted censorship of a play bearing her name.

Entitled "My Name is Rachel Corrie," the script was pieced together using Rachel’s earlier diaries and e-mails sent to her family while she was in Gaza. The show was highly acclaimed in London, winning numerous awards. Yet there was such opposition in New York that its opening day was postponed seven months. James C. Nicola, artistic director of the New York Theater Workshop, cancelled for fear of offending the Jewish community.

Eventually, free speech advocates and arts patrons succeeded in bringing "My Name is Rachel Corrie" to a different theater where it has met with good reviews. Performance dates have been extended for at least another month.

However, most of America is even more unaware of what goes on "off Broadway" than they are about what truly goes on in Palestine. So when I mentioned writing a tribute to Rachel Corrie marking the four-year anniversary of that horrible day in Gaza, it came as no surprise when my managing editor asked, "Who is Rachel Corrie?"

Name recognition is not so important; Rachel never intended to become famous. She simply made a commitment to an oppressed people, striving to improve their lives in some small way. Although her time was cut drastically short, she accomplished more in her chosen corner of the world than most people could in 100 years.

The Rachel Corrie Children and Youth Cultural Center now stands in Rafah. The Rachel Corrie Rebuilding Campaign has reconstructed the pharmacist’s home Rachel died trying to protect. And there are quite a few little girls named Rachel running around Gaza today.

God knows Rachel never intended to become a martyr. Her last e-mail to her father was bursting with plans to visit Sweden on her way back to the U.S., then return to Rafah and teach English. She also expressed dread at the thought of saying goodbye; not knowing if her Palestinian hosts would be alive when she returned.

As it turned out, the people she loved had to say goodbye to her first. She never got to visit Sweden, never got to teach English, never saw her parents again. A homicidal maniac driving a piece of American-made hardware saw to that.

Rachel Corrie’s body was crushed in Gaza four years ago; yet her legacy transcends the politics of fear, race, class and religious bigotry that the Israeli government and its American supporters use to crush justice and truth.

Perhaps in a premonition, Rachel wrote before leaving her home in Washington:
"We are all born and someday we’ll all die. Most likely to some degree alone. What if our aloneness isn’t a tragedy? What if our aloneness is what allows us to speak the truth without being afraid?"

The best tribute we can pay to Rachel Corrie, an American heroine, is to speak the truth without being afraid.

Pat Tillman

It was a propaganda gem that comes along once every war or so. The story of Pat Tillman, an NFL star who left his multi-million dollar career with the Arizona Cardinals to enlist in the Army, played perfectly into the Bush administration’s spin machine. Here was a patriotic young man who, after seeing thousands of his countrymen perish on 9/11, was so overcome by righteous anger and moral duty that he walked away from riches to defend America against Islamo-fascists.

When Corporal Tillman’s death at the hands of Afghan enemy combatants in a dramatic twenty-minute firefight was first reported, the White House wasted no time:
"Pat Tillman was an inspiration on and off the football field, as with all who have made the ultimate sacrifice in the war on terror," a presidential spokesman declared.

April 22 marks the third anniversary of Pat Tillman’s death. Three years later, we know it was actually "friendly fire" that killed him.

We know a memo attesting to that fact was circulating among top brass immediately after the tragedy. We know the primary concern of that memo was to save public officials–Bush in particular–the "embarrassment" of misrepresenting the circumstances surrounding Tillman’s death. As if misrepresenting facts is anything new to Bush.

We know it was nearly five weeks before Tillman’s family and the American people were told the truth. At least the current version of the truth. There are those who believe, including Tillman’s family, that the truth may be much more sinister than a tragic case of mistaken identity.

Enter Stan Goff, a retired 26-year veteran of the elite Delta Force and Army Rangers and former military science teacher at West Point. Goff has researched virtually every detail of the Tillman case, including more than 2,500 pages of official briefings and documents from three investigations. He has conducted extensive interviews with family members and some of the soldiers in Tillman's unit.

Talking with the soldiers was difficult. According to one member of the Battalion, the Rangers were forced to sign secrecy statements that forbade them to discuss any details of Tillman’s killing for 80 years. While Goff has concluded that Tillman was not assassinated, evidence shows he was the victim of fratricide, a botched investigation and an elaborate cover-up.

In his writings, Goff also addresses the calloused statements of Tillman’s commanding officer, Lieutenant Colonel Ralph Kauzlarich, based on his disdain for the Tillman family’s agnosticism.
After all, it was a Crusade Tillman was supposed to be fighting.

However, Tillman didn’t see it that way. He called the Iraq war "so – illegal" (expletive deleted), having been deployed there in 2003 before being sent to Afghanistan. He kept a diary which may have expressed further sentiments of that nature. Or not. We will never know.
Tillman’s personal effects, including his diary, were burned, a blatant violation of Army policy which dictates that personal effects must be returned to families. The aluminum oxide ceramic hard-plate in Tillman’s body armor also vanished.

Four Rangers admitted to shooting Tillman. One had recently undergone laser eye surgery and another claimed to have "tunnel vision." The third confessed he was "excited" by the sight of muzzle fire and the fourth said he just aimed where everyone else was shooting.

Yet an investigation concluded there was no criminal negligence in Tillman’s death or the aftermath thereof. And silence from the yellow ribbon gallery, for whom the phrase "Support Our Troops" is nothing more than a mindless mantra.

Furthermore, treatment of Tillman’s body was outrageously unprofessional. An Army report documents that CPR was performed on Tillman after his body arrived at the field hospital. This despite the fact he had suffered three machine gun shots to the back of the head, leaving little of his brain intact. When Tillman’s mother, Mary, questioned the medical examiners and field hospital personnel about this ludicrous attempt to resuscitate her son, she was told, "we are not usually criticized for trying to save lives."

It is not the only time Mary Tillman was ridiculed for asking reasonable questions. Lt. Col. Kauzlarich stated in an interview with ESPN:

"There have been numerous unfortunate cases of fratricide and the parents have basically said, ‘OK, it was an unfortunate accident.’ I don’t know, these people have a hard time letting it go. It may be because of their religious beliefs."

Kauzlarich is one of the militant Christians so prevalent in our armed forces today; a man of the same ilk as General My-God-Is-Bigger-Than-Your-god Boykin. People who cannot fathom separation of church and state. But Kauzlarich didn’t stop there.

"When you die, I mean there is supposedly a better life, right? Well, if you are an atheist and you don’t believe in anything, if you die, what is there to go to? Nothing. You are worm dirt."

Worm dirt.

Something tells me the yellow ribbon people should be up in arms about this. Pat Tillman was one of our troops, not "worm dirt."

But yellow ribbon people aren’t really about supporting our troops. They are blindly following a cult of death based on a misguided religious superiority complex and hypnotized by nationalistic fervor.

What happened to Pat Tillman was illegal. When Pat Tillman saw something illegal, he had the courage and integrity to call it "illegal," no matter what the consequences.

The least we can do to honor Pat Tillman’s memory is to demand that those responsible for his death and ensuing criminal cover-up be brought to justice, from squad leaders in the field to generals at the Pentagon. And, unlike Stan Goff, I’m not ruling out the Commander-In-Chief.

California Chaos?

Authorities in California said that 145 people were killed or were found dead Saturday, including those killed by bomb blasts at an open air market near Los Angeles. Of the total, 19 were found dumped in the capital of Sacramento; most of the bodies showed signs of torture.

The market bombing was the deadliest attack since Nov. 23, when suspected gang members hit Compton with a series of car bombs and mortars that killed at least 215 people.
Twelve days ago, not far from the site of Saturday’s blast, a suicide bomber crashed his car into the City Walk at Universal Studios, killing 88 people.

In Orange County, a pair of suicide bombers detonated explosives Thursday among shoppers in a crowded mall, killing at least 73 people and wounding 163.

The California National Guard reported the deaths of five more soldiers: four in fighting and one of an apparent heart attack. All died Friday.

Between San Diego and Escondido, another police helicopter was shot down, bringing the total to five helicopters lost in combat during the past three weeks alone.

Nearly two million Californians have fled fierce gang fighting and estimates are as many more could be internally displaced within California. Neighboring Arizona, Nevada and Oregon have absorbed most of the refugees, severely straining their economies.

Unbelievable? The numbers are all accurate. Only names have been changed from places like "Baghdad" and "Hillah" to well-known California cities. The purpose of this exercise is twofold: 1) to bring home the devastation the U.S. invasion and occupation have wielded upon the Iraqi people and 2) to illustrate how utterly ludicrous and irresponsible it is to compare crime rates in California cities–or any other major U.S. city–to the carnage that is post-Saddam Iraq.

Yet Daily Advocate Editor Bob Robinson maintains, through some kind of miraculous equation giving a whole new meaning to the term "fuzzy math," that California, New Orleans, and Washington, D.C. are more dangerous for Americans than Iraq.

The key to this of course is callously stripping Iraqi casualties from the equation. Using "only" the 3,000 + American war dead, spread out over the last 4 years and averaging a monthly total, the statistics can be easily skewed to whitewash the violence in Iraq.

It would be interesting to see how the number of American wounded compares– you know, amputees, blind, deaf, brain damaged. They number at least 23,417 according to CNN.

Yet war proponents still claim imbedded journalists, television reporters and newspaper editors are all part of a vast liberal media conspiracy to undermine the war effort. In other words, traitors.

The media is criticized for not reporting the good news coming out of Iraq; the good work American soldiers are doing in rebuilding Iraq. Sorry, but when pieces of 145 people litter the streets of what used to be a vegetable market, photos of soldiers passing out M&M’s to Iraqi kids get moved to the back burner.

We’re rebuilding roads, schools, hospitals, you say? Ask yourself: "Why do roads, schools and hospitals need rebuilt?" The answer is simple: American bombing campaigns wiped out most of the Iraqi infrastructure. During the attack on Fallujah alone in 2004, clinics, hospitals and residential areas were flattened, all in a failed attempt to locate Abu Musab Al-Zarqawi and destroy his supporters. I’m sure that campaign won friends and influenced people...for the insurgency.

It is naive to think bombs have become any "smarter" since the years after the first Gulf War. Civilian deaths due to U.S. and British patrols enforcing the "no-fly" zones over northern and southern Iraq mounted to 300 dead and 800 wounded in an 18-month period alone. Many of the victims were shepherds in rural areas, miles away from any military outpost.

Risk of death by violence for civilians in Iraq is now 58 times higher than before the invasion (Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School, Baltimore). Moreover, unemployment rate has reached 70%, according to a study by the college of economics in Baghdad University. Besides, if there was any good news to report, why have nearly two million Iraqis fled to neighboring states? Iraqis now comprise the second-largest group of refugees worldwide, Palestinians being the largest.

And speaking of Palestinians, what has happened to those living in Iraq? Many found safe haven in Iraq after the U.N. created Israel; they enjoyed a special status under Saddam Hussein’s administration.

They are refugees again, fleeing persecution by Shia militias in the ever worsening sectarian civil war. Currently, 700 Palestinians remain stranded in the no-man’s land between Iraq and Syria, trapped since May 2006. The Syrians refuse to admit them; to return home means certain death.

But surely there is good news coming from the semi-autonomous Kurdish north? Good news for Kurds; bad news for civilians in Eastern Turkey. Kurdish terrorists, emboldened by their new status, are training at camps in northern Iraq. Subsequently, they carry out bombings in Turkey with the goal of creating an independent Kurdistan from parts of Iraq, Turkey, Iran and Syria. Several months ago, a Kurdish separatist attack on a school in Turkey killed seven children and three other civilians.

As the debate whether to hold a debate or not in Congress rages on, so too does the civil war in what used to be a secure, sovereign nation. And that civil war will continue with or without American troops present. Let us all hope Congress uses the power of the purse to end this debacle once and for all, bringing American soldiers home as soon as is logistically possible.

"O Little Town..."

"O little town of Bethlehem..."

The words of this timeless Christmas carol are a touchingly personal description of the city where Jesus Christ was born. Simple, humble, the lyrics convey not only the most enchanting qualities of the town, but of the Savior who began his earthly life there.

Phillips Brooks, a Philadelphia rector, traveled to Palestine in 1868. Awed by the view of Bethlehem from the surrounding hills at night, he wrote "O Little Town of Bethlehem." The carol is profoundly moving; even more so to those who have gazed upon that ancient landscape.
"It couldn’t have been anyplace else," I remember thinking, looking over Shepherd’s Field.

Personal yet universal, Brooks’s simple and cherished words have taken on a harsh irony today. The humanitarian crisis in Palestine is growing worse by the hour, threatening the very existence of the Christian population in the birthplace of Christianity.

"O little town of Bethlehem..."

Little town, indeed. And becoming smaller with every new, more invasive Israeli annexation.
"The Israeli government just confiscated 14 percent of the birthplace of Christ." Bethlehem’s Mayor, Dr. Victor Batarsa’s complaint fell on deaf ears. Included in the latest Israeli land grab in the Northern Bethlehem District were shops, religious and social centers and other privately owned property.

Additionally, Israel confiscated a strategic 38 acres of Palestinian land south of Bethlehem. Official reasons were for "military purposes" and the "security wall," referring to the massive barrier currently under construction. In actuality, the land is being used for road projects to connect Jewish settlements around Bethlehem.

The roads will be for Jewish settlers; Palestinians will be prohibited from traveling on them. Neighboring villages will be isolated from one another, in some cases completely encompassed by either wall or the Jewish-only roads. Even now, Bethlehem residents have to apply for permits from the Israeli government if they wish to travel to Jerusalem, six miles away.

"How still we see thee lie..."

The last several years of Israeli closures and checkpoint labyrinths have impacted Bethlehem’s once thriving tourism industry significantly. Throughout 2006, occupancy rates at hotels in Bethlehem barely reached nine percent. Pro-Israeli Christian groups who organize Holy Land tours omit Bethlehem, citing "security concerns." As no attacks on tourists have ever occurred in Bethlehem, these "concerns" are a bogus attempt to vilify Palestinians. And they have the audacity to call it a Christian pilgrimage.

Needless to say, such conditions have paralyzed the local economy. Olive wood Nativity scenes and Christmas ornaments collect dust on shelves. Beleaguered shopkeepers and artisans are short not only on customers, but raw materials as well. In June, Israeli bulldozers destroyed several acres of prized olive trees to prepare for a new section of barrier wall.

"Above thy deep and dreamless sleep the silent stars go by..."

"It was a spiritless day," Auxiliary Bishop Pierre Burcher of Switzerland recalls his visit to Bethlehem. Spiritless. The place where mankind’s hope was fulfilled remains in a deep and dreamless sleep day and night. The wall, nearly 26 feet high, surrounds Bethlehem. By comparison, the Berlin Wall was a little less than 12 feet high.

Yet the silence in Bethlehem is preferable to the orgy of mockery that took place 18 miles southwest in Hebron. Tove Johansson, a 19 year-old Swedish human rights worker had volunteered to escort Palestinian children through an Israeli checkpoint to and from school. On November 20, her small group was confronted by approximately 100 Jewish settlers. The settlers began spitting upon and kicking the volunteers.

"We killed Jesus, we’ll kill you, too!" the settlers chanted; the refrain had become familiar to those working in the area.

"Jesus was gay!" they continued taunting, growing steadily more vicious. Israeli soldiers manning the checkpoint did nothing to intervene. The attack culminated in one settler hurling a bottle at Johansson, breaking her cheekbone. As she lay on the ground bleeding, the mob cheered. The assailants were never apprehended.

And the world was silent.

"Yet in thy dark streets shineth the everlasting Light..."

Swiss Bishop Burcher, was encouraged later in his visit by attending services in the Church of the Nativity. "I was impressed by the participation and recollection of the faithful," he said after celebrating Mass.

Although Bethlehem’s Christian community has declined sharply, those remaining practice their faith enthusiastically and without interference from the majority Muslim population. Contrary to a Congressional resolution last summer, Christian-Muslim relations are strong.
The resolution, introduced by Texas Republican Michael McCaul, stated Muslim persecution has led to a Christian exodus. Fifty years ago, Christians comprised six percent of the West Bank’s population; today they make up 1.5 percent. The draft included accusations of systemic discrimination and sexual harassment against Palestinian Christians.

Daphne Tsimhoni, a professor at Haifa’s Israel Institute of Technology asserted that nearly all of McCaul’s points are misleading or pure fabrication. Rather than facing discrimination, Christians have more than their fare share of representatives within the Palestinian Authority. Since taking power, Hamas has made no attempt to impose Islamic Law. The only threat to Christians’ freedom of religion is Israeli travel restrictions, a fact glaringly omitted from the resolution.

"The hopes and fears of all the years are met in thee tonight."

While the future of Christ’s birthplace looks bleak, there is hope. As American Christians become better informed about the situation in Bethlehem, we can become an effective force for change. After all, it was through $10 billion in U.S. loan guarantees that made the barrier wall imprisoning Bethlehem possible. Most of all this Christmas, remember to keep the citizens of Bethlehem in your prayers.

The Core of the Problem

With all the carnage resulting from the latest eruptions in Gaza and Lebanon, it seems almost obscene to discuss an extinct amphibian. Yet the fate of the Palestinian Painted Frog, including its posthumous name change, is a profound illustration of the Israeli government’s reckless disregard for life and Orwellian revisionism.

The Palestinian Painted Frog inhabited the wetlands surrounding Lake Huleh, just north of the Sea of Galilee and in adjacent parts of Syria. In the early 1950s, the newly established Israeli government drained these freshwater swamps in order to build houses. A fraction of the land was set aside as a nature preserve in 1964, but it came too late for the Palestinian Painted Frog, the last reported sighting of which was in 1955.

As if destroying a unique ecosystem isn’t crime enough, the species’ name was changed after it became extinct. In many circles, it is now known as the "Israel Painted Frog" or the "Huleh Painted Frog" part of an ongoing attempt by Zionists and their sympathizers to erase any vestige of the name "Palestine" from human memory. And we’re worried about Israel’s "right to exist?"

Coincidently, the Palestinian people who were forced to flee from the Lake Huleh area in 1948 after Al-Nakba (The Catastrophe, known to the West as "Israeli Independence Day") are playing a major role in current events as they pertain to Lebanon and the Middle East as a whole. These people, along with their children and grandchildren, now reside in the Nahr el-Bared (Cold River) refugee camp, north of the Lebanese port city of Tripoli. The camp was originally established by the League of Red Cross Societies in 1949 to accommodate refugees specifically from the Lake Huleh area of northern Palestine.

It is this camp, home to 31,023 refugees, that is currently under siege by the Lebanese Army, pounding militants and children alike with indiscriminate cannons. A lull in the three-day battle is allowing some 10,000 refugees–some on their third or fourth displacement–to "escape" to yet another refugee camp.

Media and politicians alike can blame Fatah al-Islam, a relatively unknown group with dubious links to Al-Qaida, for destabilizing the country. They can blame Syria. They can blame the complex layers of religious factions that contributed to Lebanon’s fifteen-year civil war.
Yet the facts are simple. The people of Nahr el-Bared, like those in eleven other Palestinian refugee camps in Lebanon, live in overcrowded squalor. Residents cope with an inadequate water supply and open sewers. Furthermore, Lebanese law defines Palestinian refugees as foreigners, despite the fact that many have lived in Lebanon for over 50 years.

Living with this status means Palestinians in Lebanon may not work unless they obtain a permit, valid for a maximum of two years. They are not easy to come by; in 1994, out of a workforce of 218,173, only 350 workers were granted permits.

According to Human Rights Watch, the situation of Palestinian women in Lebanon is particularly harsh. Women who work in the garment industry are paid below minimum wage and earn half the salary of Lebanese citizens. Because most do not have work permits, they do not receive benefits, including medical insurance. Eighty percent of Palestinians in Lebanon live in dire poverty, prohibited from seeking gainful employment.

Thus the Lebanese government is reaping the rewards of imposing such inhumane conditions on the 400,000 Palestinian refugees forced to live there. What else is there to do but foment terrorism?

Yet many of Fatah al-Islam’s members are not even Palestinian; they hail from all over the Muslim world, from places like Bangladesh, Yemen and Saudi Arabia. They came to Iraq as "foreign fighters," received training and plenty of experience, then took their expertise to fight other battles.

So the Bush administration’s genocidal foreign policy can chalk up yet another series of disastrous consequences. Civilian casualties within the camp are unknown, as no one has been able to enter Nahr el-Bared since the fighting began. Buildings that were flimsy to begin with have collapsed due to the heavy artillery used by the Lebanese Army; burying people alive.

However, the stories are emerging. Indeed, these stories are all that the thousands of refugees have to take out of the camp with them. According to one Associated Press report a couple and their six children, ranging in ages from three to thirteen, hid in a mosque for three days. The adjacent cemetery was bombarded, uprooting bodies and bones.

The Lebanese Army is currently abiding by a 38 year-old agreement that they cannot enter Palestinian camps. I hope it sticks better than it did in 1982 when the Phalangist militias, aligned with Ariel Sharon, invaded the Sabra and Shatilla camps and butchered nearly 2,000 women and children.

But in all fairness, the Lebanese Army had no control of that Phalangist militia. And to be fair now, the Lebanese should not have to deal with 400,000 disenfranchised Palestinians in their midst.

The core of the problem is the U.N.’s 1947 decision to partition off 53 percent of Palestine in order to accommodate a foreign population in the middle of Arab land. Subsequent Israeli aggressions have whittled Palestine down to a mere 20 percent of its original area.

However, the Palestinian people will never go as quietly as the Painted Frog by the same name, much to the chagrin of Zionists, both Jewish and Christian alike. Until the world realizes the root cause of Mideast turmoil, we can brace for more of the same violent images on the evening news for generations to come.

Collective Amnesia

Do so-called journalists suffer from collective amnesia? Or do they just engage in paid double-speak when it comes to reporting the Palestinian conflict?

According to folks in mainstream Western media, Hamas–for some mysterious and unknown reason–broke a cease-fire with the Israelis and began launching Qassam rockets into the southern city of Sderot again. Israeli air strikes against civilians in Gaza and the mass arrests of West Bank mayors are merely a retaliatory measure aimed at protecting Israeli security and of course, their "right to exist."

However, it wasn’t Hamas who broke the cease-fire.

Although the powers that be desperately want us to forget the circumstances surrounding the current round of violence, let this serve as a reminder: During March of this year, the Israeli Army conducted no less than 30 military incursions into Palestinian communities in the West Bank. All of this was confirmed at one time or another by the Associated Press, although what measly coverage they did provide was buried in half-inch columns on the back pages of American newspapers.

On March 6 and again on March 17, dozens of Israeli jeeps and hundreds of soldiers had surrounded the Old City of Nablus and declared a curfew. Their stated mission was to capture or assassinate eight fighters from Al Aqsa Martyrs Brigade, the armed wing of the Fatah movement. Meanwhile, the 40,000 residents of Nablus Old City were trapped in their homes, unable to go to work or school, or even to buy food for their families.

On March 7, the Israeli Army invaded Ramallah, arresting 107 Palestinians, bringing the total number of arrests to 671 since the beginning of 2007. Northeast of Hebron, the Israeli Army stormed the offices of charitable organizations and associated kindergarten programs, confiscating documents, books and computers. They subsequently ordered the closures of both the charities and the kindergartens.

Meanwhile in the Gaza Strip, the Israeli Army razed large tracts of land around the town of Beit Hanoun.

Anna Baltzer, an extraordinary young woman whom I had the pleasure of meeting last summer at the University of Illinois, is a volunteer with the International Women’s Peace Service and was in Nablus at the time of the Israeli closure. She kept a journal, written in harrowing detail, of the humanitarian crisis that ensued. She took pictures of Israeli soldiers detaining medical relief volunteers and preventing them from delivering medical services.
Anna personally broke curfew, delivering bread to Palestinians trapped in their homes. As an international worker, she gambled that she wouldn’t be shot–and thankfully, she was right. This time.

To read more about Anna Baltzer’s experiences in Palestine, go to www.annainthemiddleeast.com/ or check out her book, Witness in Palestine: Journal of a Jewish American Woman in the Occupied Territories.

The Israeli human rights organization B’Tselem reported that Israeli forces used Palestinians as human shields in earlier raids on Nablus during February 2007. Three individuals: a 15 year-old boy, a 24 year-old man and an 11 year-old girl, testified that Israeli soldiers forced them to enter houses that were alleged hideouts of Palestinian resistance fighters.

In one instance, Israeli forces took control of a house and interrogated the family about the location of armed Palestinians. The soldiers subsequently forced eleven-year old Jihan Dadush to lead them to an adjacent house, where she was made to open the door and enter in front of the soldiers.

"I was shaking with fear. I was afraid they would kill me or put me in jail. The only thing I wanted to do was sleep… I am afraid that the soldiers will come back and take me," the young girl told B’Tselem.

The preceding should be more than ample explanation to any reasonable person why there are rockets raining down on Sderot again. The Palestinians have the right and moral obligation to defend their people and their right to exist. Unfortunately, Hamas doesn’t receive billions in U.S. military aid, so they have to rely on homemade rockets.

To which the Israelis, as always, have responded with more airstrikes on civilians, assassinations, arrests, curfews and closures. To which the U.S., as always, has responded, "Israel has the right to defend herself."

Forty-nine Palestinians have been killed in the past 11 days.

According to U.S. policy, killing Palestinians is kosher. Look at the $40 million in military aid we just rushed to Lebanon to continue the bombardment of the Nahr al-Bared camp for Palestinian refugees. Does anyone dare ask–anyone in our illustrious crew of reporters or news anchors–where praytell was that aid last summer when over 1,000 Lebanese civilians were murdered by the Israeli Air Force, their infrastructure bombed back to the Stone Age?

Does anyone dare ask how can the U.S. get away with sending $60 million to Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, who also serves as the head of Fatah? Al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigade, the armed wing of Fatah, is designated as a Foreign Terrorist Organization by the State Department.

The strategy is simple: divide and conquer. Encourage Fatah to put down Hamas rather than let them build a coalition. This presents a weaker front to negotiate–or fight as the case may be–with the Israelis. To achieve this, our government breaks its own law by funding a group who, according to its own watch list, is linked with terrorism.

The people whose profession it is to raise these questions amble along placidly, sending back their little stories of "humanitarian concerns" amid the threat of growing "Islamic extremism," which is countered by "Israeli reprisals."

I guess the media are no better than those invertebrates in the U.S. Congress who can’t even stand up to an inarticulate redneck with a 28% approval rating. I had higher expectations of our journalists.