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  • What Will be Left Behind If and When Israel Leaves Gaza?

    Jen and I have returned safely to the US. We apologize for the gap in keeping you posted on our travels. Experiences were simply too complex to quickly digest and days too exhausting to blog in the early hours of the morning. Thank you for all your comments and for accompanying us on our journey. We will continue with a few more entries this week, sent from the relatively calmer offices of Grassroots International.

  • Notes from a Program Visit to Palestine

    The following are some notes and stories from some of the places we saw and the people we met. These are just a few of the many scenes I go back to over and over again when I reflect on this trip.

    The Passion

    We were walking through the narrow streets of old city in Bethlehem with Fatima. She wanted to show us the cultural center that her uncle had opened just outside of Manger Square so we ducked into the building. Our friend pointed out the gardens, the galleries, the classrooms and finally the theater. The theater was offering nightly showings of The Passion of the Christ, the new, controversial film by Mel Gibson that details Jesus' final days. Although I have yet to see this film, I've heard from those that have seen it that it is incredibly bloody and gruesome, certainly not for the squeamish. Fatima, who had seen the film twice, confirmed this.

  • In Palestine: Conversations Around the Table and through the Bethlehem Streets

    I hope to return from Palestine/Israel a more compassionate and wiser person, although that remains to be seen. What is already written is that I will return much larger. Palestinian hospitality has been abundant bordering on excessive. Last night, a family took my colleague and I to dinner and the waiter did not rest until he'd placed on the table 24 small plates of hummous, tabouli, fatoush and various beet and eggplant salads. Other meals have been only slightly less modest. I thought I'd share with you some conversations had around the food, anise licquer, Arabic coffee wafting cardamom and a perpetual haze of cigarette smoke.

  • Palestine: In Their Own Words

    We returned a few hours ago from Bethlehem where we visited the Ibdaa Cultural Center in the Dheisheh Refugee Camp. Unfortunately, our visit was cut short by the news of a nearby shooting. A young man was shot and killed by the Israeli Defense Forces near Rachel's Tomb. The man was from Dheisheh. The news of his death spread rapidly throughout the camp and the Ibdaa Cultural Center, usually lively and filled with kids, was empty. Only the dance troupe remained in the building, practicing for an upcoming tour. The people were angry and were anticipating the arrival of Israeli troops. It seemed wise to leave.

    So, I'm exhausted after this day and rather than filling this page with my own thoughts, I decided to let the Palestinians tell a bit of their own story. I have pulled for you a number of quotes from people we've met. This is by no means meant to be a complete picture — it is intended solely to give you a flavor of some of what we are hearing.

  • Where Art Thou, International Law?

    Now I'm no expert on international law; please understand that. But even a layperson like myself begins to sense that when an Israeli soldiers beats a prisoner in full public view with complete impunity, there must be a law out there crying out to be implemented. The targeted assassination of Sheikh Yassin and the entire program of targeted assassinations similarly stinks of the same extra-judicial character.

    Just prior to arriving at a checkpoint yesterday, an armored military jeep sped by with its rear doors flung open. The doors were left open with apparent intent, so Palestinians waiting in line at the check point could watch and be intimidated by a young Israeli soldier smashing his steel shanked helmet into the head of a young Palestinian. (Another descriptor might be "head-butting" though this act was far too vicious and the environment far too tense for vernacular that conjures up play.) By the time I reached the checkpoint soldiers to hand over my documents for inspection, the beaten boy stood ten feet away with two other boys, legs spread wide, palms up against a fence. At least this had the appearance of an actual arrest proceeding. The soldier, a recent Russian immigrant, handed me back my passport, smiled and said both warmly and sternly, "be very careful here".

  • Business As Usual

    Jerusalem and the surrounding towns were again quiet today. Outside of Gaza, there has been relatively little reaction to Yassin's assassination. Certainly not the firestorm that some were expecting. The general atmosphere is still very tense and one can see evidence of flare-ups. As we crossed the El Ram checkpoint on the outskirts of Jerusalem we saw the still smoldering remnants of fiery demonstrations. The smell of burning tires still lingered in the air. Later in the afternoon, we watched as about 20 youth threw stones and exchanged insults with 2 Israeli soldiers. The youth stood at a safe distance atop an embankment behind a barbed wire fence and the soldiers were standing below. Eventually the soldiers grew weary and fired their weapons into the air, letting the youth know that the game was over.

  • Jerusalem At First Glance

    From the airport we traveled swiftly to Jerusalem on a multi-laned highway on which only Israelis can travel. The road rivals its counterparts in the US, As we entered the West Bank, we noticed that between 50 — 500 meters of land on either side of this "bypass" road lay fallow. Though intricately terraced, for security purposes the Israelis prohibit cultivation of these plots. Olive trees can not harvested or vegetables grown. This prohibition might not make a tremendous difference if land was abundant, if the highways themselves did not constitute thousands of hectares of confiscated land, but as you probably know, close to 10 million Jews and Palestinians must share this tiny, contested land.

  • From Papaye to Palestine…

    On January 25, we decided to spend a couple of weeks using this journal as a way to focus on the crisis in Haiti, and GRI's work there. That crisis immediately took a dramatic turn that has made Haiti the dominant focus of our work ever since.

    Our work will remain very focused on Haiti, but the Grassroots Journal must take a turn toward another complex area of the world in which we are privileged to work. In keeping with its mission to share, whenever possible, our first hand experience of the work of our partners and the world around it, the Journal's attention now shifts to Palestine.

  • U.S. Connivance Alone…

    The people at globalissues.org provide some of the best information available on a wide range of human rights issues. Their page on Haiti is an incredible piece of research, but we believe that it could include a bit more reference to the views of those Haitian social change organizations that have opposed both ex-President Aristide and U.S. military intervention.

    We share here our letter to the creators of this excellent site:

  • A Small Window for Democratic Reform…

    The mainstream news about what is going on in Haiti continues to diminish in scope and reliability. Alternative news sources remain more focused on the circumstances surrounding ex-President Aristide's departure, and his current whereabouts, than events inside Haiti. Across the media board, Aristide's trip to Jamaica has received much more coverage than anything happening in Haiti, itself.

    We support the idea that there should be a full investigation of the US role in Aristide's departure. We also believe that those of interested in Haiti should be paying attention to what Haitians are doing to try to move forward out of the current economic and human rights crisis.

  • Oak Park Reminds Us

    Yesterday, Grassroots and Grantmakers Without Borders organized a conference call between over 20 U.S. funders and the very same Pierre Esperance mentioned in our previous post. The depth of interest in the human rights situation in Haiti was gratifying. Pierre summarized his view of the current situation and outlined his organization's plan to respond to a national human rights emergency.

    Over the past six weeks, thousands of you have taken a peek at Grassroots Journal as we have made a modest attempt to be sure that our Haitian partners have some voice in the international discussion of their country. We've received a lot of feedback on our efforts, much of it very supportive. Some people continue insist that we have been too ready to overlook the nefarious role of the U.S. in changing regimes in Haiti. Amidst all of that and the difficult news each day from Haiti, the following note arrived today from a teacher at a middle school in Oak Park, IL.

  • We Don’t Want Any More Saviors

    In a promising departure from the norm, the March 7 edition of the Houston Chronicle published an article leading with a quote from the director of a Haitian human rights organization. Pierre Esperance of the National Coalition for Haitian Rights and the Haitian Human Rights Platform (POHDH) tells the Chronicle, "We don't need a leader. We don't want any more saviors. We need a structure put in place to satisfy the needs of the population."

  • Echoes of the Past in Haiti?

    Last week we expressed our hope that the armed groups that both supported and opposed President Aristide would quickly disappear from the Haitian scene. Now that hope has moved into the category of an urgent necessity.

    During the past week there have been many reports of threats and killings, the majority involving attacks on supporters of the deposed president. Then, today, armed men--apparently Aristide supporters--visciously attacked a demonstration of the ex-President's opponents, killing six and injuring many more.