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  • Little Town of Bethlehem

    Raji Sourani, the director of the Palestinian Center for Human Rights (PCHR), sent us a note with seasons greetings and forwarded a copy of a Christmas card that PCHR had received.

    He writes, "I think the card illustrates very effectively the state of affairs in Palestine. We look forward to a brighter and better year for Palestinians, and for peace loving people around the world, in 2005 and hope we can build this with your continued help and support."

    Here's the card:

    BeitLahim.gif

    Peace,

    Grassroots International

  • Report from the World Forum on Agrarian Reform

     

    Every once in a while, in the midst of reports of massacres, political oppression, and natural disaster, we get a welcome reminder of the value of the work that we do here at Grassroots, and of the power of movements and organizations like our partners to find ways to move forward, in the midst of the violence and the chaos of everyday life.

  • No Lessons: The Pictures

    Yesterday we received a note from Ziad Abbas with the news that the Ibdaa cultural center's kindergarten had been badly damaged when Israeli forces used explosives to demolish a nearby home. Today Ibdaa sent along these photos from the bombing.

    I'm trying to imagine how people here in Jamaica Plain would react if the police came in the middle of the night and blew up someone's house next door to a kindergarten or a day care center, wrecking the kids' classrooms in the process, and it's just unfathomable. (It's also pretty clearly a form of collective punishment, which is illegal under international law.)

    Homes and kindergartens

  • No Lessons Today

    In the past few weeks, members of the staff of Grassroots International have had the privilege of visiting young people at schools in Boston and the surrounding area, gaining inspiration from their energy and their commitment to finding ways to make the world of tomorrow a better place.

    Meanwhile, in the world of today: This morning we received a note from Ziad Abbas, director of Ibdaa cultural Center, one of our partners in Palestine. He was writing to let us know that the building where Ibdaa's kindergarten was housed had been destroyed, blown up by an Israeli demolition crew in the pre-dawn hours.

    Ziad's note begins:

    At quarter to four this morning the Hamash family building was bombed by the Israeli Army. At least 12 jeeps invaded Dheisheh Camp and surrounded the families? homes, as well as Ibdaa?s kindergarten ? which share the same building. The Army ordered Musa Hamash, Aziz Hamash, and Ahmed Hamash and their families outside into the damp and chilly morning air. They were given 30 minutes to remove as many of their belongings as possible before the bombing. Not only was this not enough time, but the presence of Army jeeps blocking each of the narrow nearby streets made it even more difficult for them to save some family memories and some meager possessions.

    You can read the rest of his letter here.

  • Drawing Inspiration from High School Youth at the MET

     

    Bringing GRI's message and the work of our partners to a public high school audience in Providence, Rhode Island is one of those things I wish we could be doing more of. So on Monday morning at the crack of dawn I got up, to lead an assembly or "Pick Me Up" as they called it, at one of the schools of the Met (Metropolitan Regional and Technical Center)–a unique state-funded public school K-12, that is structured around students individualized projects and skills development.


  • MST Activists Killed in Attack by Hooded Gunmen

    This Saturday a group of hooded gunmen arrived at a small parcel of land in the state of Minas Gerais, Brazil, and opened fire on a group of children, women, and men who have been living there in a makeshift encampment for the last two years.

    Brazil's Landless Workers Movement had identified the land as an un-used, state-owned parcel of land that, under the Brazilian Constitution, should have been distributed to landless workers so that it could be put to work for the good of all of Brazilian society.

    More and more in the past two years, even under the worker-friendly goverment of President Luiz Ignacio "Lula" da Silva, landowners and other forces alligned against agrarian reform have resorted to brutal violence to fight the re-distribution of land.

  • The Kennedy School Lends a Hand

    This morning, I went to the Lt. J.P. Kennedy Memorial School in Hyde Park, MA to speak about Grassroots International's program in Haiti. The Kennedy School is a Catholic School providing a K-6 education to youngsters in a predominantly working class neighborhood of Boston. The school has always seen service to immigrant youngsters as an important part of its misson. It was founded by Polish sisters to serve Polish immigrants to the area. Today, about one-third of the school's students are Haitians.

    As part of its effort to increase the entire school's knowledge of Haiti and its appreciation of Haitian culture, the school held some community conversations last spring. I represented Grassroots at one of those discussions and spoke about our program in Haiti, especially the Creole Pig Repopulation Project.

  • Can the World Revive a True Hope of Peace in Palestine?

    This morning, two of our partners were guests on a news special on Pacifica Radio. Ziad Abbas of Ibdaa Cultural Center and Hasan Barghouthi of the Democracy and Workers Rights Center talked about the struggle for self determination, democratic reform, and a just peace, but also about the even more profound struggle for respect of the most basic human rights and international law under the Israeli occupation of Palestine.

    We also received a note from Hasan, expressing his gratitude for the solidarity and support of Grassroots International in the days since the death of Arafat, and outlining a series of questions that need to be answered in the coming days: what will the Israelis and the Americans do to restore hope that a just peace is possible? What will the new Palestinian leadership do to strengthen civil society and build democratic institutions? You can read Hasan's letter here.

  • After Arafat: The Way Forward

    The Passing of Yasser Arafat marks a moment of great change in Palestine. We believe that it is crucial to listen to the voices of democratic social change organizations in Palestine as we move forward. Here is a link to a statement from the Palestinian Center for Human Rights, a Grassroots International partner:

    Farewell Abu Ammar: PCHR Welcomes the Smooth Transition of Authority; The International Community Is Required to Pressure Israel to Permit Holding Palestinian Elections

    We've started to post other statements and articles that we hope will provide insight into this moment. Be sure to check the links sidebar for updates.

  • Her Own November 3 Picket Line

    Since last week's election, we've been wrestling to find the words to share our perspective on the outcome in a way that would add something to the hundreds of "Morning After" bulletins that have filled our inbox. As we neared exhaustion from the wrestling, we stumbled upon a speech given on November 3 (the Morning After) by Indian writer Arundhati Roy in acceptance of the Sydney Peace Prize. She doesn't mention the U.S. election, but her words have special significance for us as we face the challenges of building our own movements for change in this Week Before.

    Arundhati begins by noting that last year's recipient, Hanan Ashrawi, was picketed during her speech. Ms. Roy demands her own picket, even if it must be thrown together on short notice.

  • Haiti Descends

    More troubling reports concerning the human rights situation have emerged from Haiti in recent days. A variety of Haitian sources have confirmed that several apparent summary executions have taken place in so-called slum areas in and around Port-au-Prince, especially in the International Fort area. Information remains incomplete, but evidence suggests that these killings were carried out by units of the Haitian National Police. The neighborhoods in which these actions have taken place are known to be areas of strong support for former President Jean Bertrand Aristide and his Lavalas Family Party.

  • Jewish Congregation Adopts Palestinian Partner

    Last weekend I had the opportunity to speak at a progressive Jewish congregation, Kahil B'raira-- Community of Choice -- Congregation for Humanistic Judaism (KB).

    Some time ago, KB contacted Jennifer Lemire and I about possibly adopting a Grassroots International Palestine partner as a project of the congregation. After a painstaking two year assessment and dialogue, the congregation's Middle East Working Group decided to sponsor two projects - one in Israel and one in Palestine.

    One project is Open House in Ramle, Israel, which supports the building of relationships and reconciliation between Israeli Jews and Arabs. The other is support for the Anin Kindergarten through Grassroots International, a project of the Anin Women's Club, located in the northern West Bank (The Anin Women's Club is a project of the Palestinian Agricultural Relief Committees.)

  • We Must Protest

    I've just returned from the conferences of Grantmakers Without Borders (GWoB) and the National Network of Grantmakers in Miami. These conferences brought together hundreds of people who have in commom that they are trying to change the face of philanthropy in this country. GWoB is trying to increase that tiny percentage of U.S. philanthropy (less than 3%) that supports work outside of the U.S., while NNG is a leading voice for "social change philanthropy" in this country.

  • The Opposite of Disarmament

    In the last few weeks, more than 50 people have been killed in political violence in Haiti. For days at a time, normal life in Port-au-Prince grinded to a halt, with the lucky few people who had jobs too afraid to go to work. Even emergency aid destined for the victims of September's floods in Gonnaives was stopped, because containers could not be unloaded in the port, and supplies that were in-country could not safely be delivered to the people who so desperately needed them.

    In the immediate aftermath of the ouster of President Aristide, U.S.-led multinational forces proclaimed that they would embark on a program of disarmament, demanding that insurgents and extremists lay down their weapons to make a peaceful, democratic political transition possible. The proclamations lasted a few weeks, until the head of the U.S. mission revealed a change of plan: "This is a country with a lot of weapons and disarmament is not our mission. Our mission is to stabilize the country."

  • Who Will Protect the Haitian People?

    After more than six months in office, the "Boniface-LaTortue government has failed to serious tackle the task of disarming all illegally armed groups," according to the National Coalition for Haitian Rights (NCHR), in a report on the violence of the past week. Yesterday, the bodies of three slain police officers were buried as gunshots rang out in the area around the funeral (read the AP report here).

  • Deadly Incursion in Gaza Continues

    Last Tuesday, following a three-week withdrawal from Gaza, Israeli forces invaded the northern section of the Gaza Strip. The ensuing week has been one of the deadliest periods in Gaza in years. (For an overview of the last four years of intifada--1,008 Israelis and 3,334 Palestinians dead-- read Dr. Mustafa Barghouthi's analysis on Electronic Intifada.)

    Our partners in Gaza are doing their best to do their work and live their lives, but they are struggling. In addition to the 66 Palestinian deaths (including 19 children), there has been extensive damage to infrastructure, including the total destruction of water, power and sewage systems for more than 100,000 refugees.