Month: April 2002

Box:

“The Stench of Death is Horrible…”

“Israel’s image has been badly harmed. We must return to negotiations or find ourselves trapped in an endless cycle of violence.” –Yossi Beilin, Israeli peace negotiator and opponent of Sharon’s government. “UN aide calls Jenin scene horrifying,” Boston Globe, 4/19/02.

“They made Jenin into the capital of the suicide bomber, hiding behind the women, children, and old men, because they knew they could always scream ‘atrocity,’ and the world would always believe them. But no matter how often the media prints these lies, it does not make them true. No massacre occurred here, no atrocity, just the tragedy of war.” –Gideon Meir, senior official of Israel’s Foreign Ministry. “UN aide calls Jenin scene horrifying,” Boston Globe, 4/19/02.

“I am watching two brothers pull their father from the ruins, the stench of death is horrible. We are seeing a 12-year-old boy being dug out, totally burned. We have expert people here who have been in war zones and earthquakes and they say they have never seen anything like it… It is totally unacceptable that the government of Israel for 11 days did not allow search and rescue teams to come.” –Terje Roed-Larsen, UN Middle East envoy who helped hammer out the Oslo peace agreement. “Jenin camp ‘horrific beyond belief,'” BBC News Online, 4/18/02.

“As Israeli forces pursued militants, civilians continued getting in the way and dying as a result.” –James Bennet and David Rohde, reporters for the New York Times. “Jenin assault bitter lesson for 2 enemies,” The New York Times, reprinted in The Seattle Times, 4/21/02, A1.

“Just as everyone understands the children’s stones barely reach the soldiers and their jeeps, let alone injure them, we also know that bullets don’t make much of a dent in tanks. But they show that Palestinians have not given up their right to be free of military occupation, and some believe they may help prevent the Israeli soldiers from emerging from their metal-encrusted cocoons of safety during their excursions through city streets…

…The most convincing argument I’ve heard contends that Palestinians cannot win a conventional military battle, but they have to do what they can to show the occupiers that they will not be massacred laying down. If they are to be shot down, it’s going to be from a standing position. They have no other options.” –Lori Allen, writing from her besieged home in Ramallah. “Surviving the Israeli Invasion of Ramallah,” CounterPunch, 3/16-3/31/02, p. 1.

“This stupid war that we are waging, it’s awful. Killing people, as many as possible–there is no point in this. I can’t begin to explain to you what we are going through right now. We are doing something totally against what we believe in. For you, it’s a paradox. For us, it is killing us from inside… The Israeli propaganda says that we only shot at the houses that we needed to destroy. This is not true. I wish that it were only property that has been damaged.” –Sgt. Abi, a 24-year-old Israeli military reservist who commanded troops in the Jenin operation. “Israel’s reluctant reservists torn; ‘Brutal campaign’ weighs heavily,” San Francisco Chronicle, 4/18/02.

“They witnessed people digging out corpses from the rubble with bare hands. Meanwhile, no major emergency rescue operation has been allowed to begin. The destruction is massive and the impact on the civilian population is devastating. –UN Secretary General Kofi Annan describes the scene in Jenin witnessed by a UN fact-finding mission. “Annan Seeks Probe of Israelis at Jenin,” Washington Post, 4/19/02.

“I must say that the evidence before us at the moment doesn’t lead us to believe that the allegations are anything other than truthful and that therefore there are large numbers of civilian dead underneath these bulldozed and bombed ruins that we see.” –Prof. Derek Pounder, a British forensic expert and member of an Amnesty International team in Jenin. “Jenin ‘massacre evidence growing,'” BBC News Online, 4/18/02.

“We cannot stop terror this way. This brutal campaign will get us nowhere.” –Gai Rottenberg, an Israeli military reservist who participated in the Jenin operation. “Israel’s reluctant reservists torn; ‘Brutal campaign’ weighs heavily,” SF Chronicle, 4/18/02.

“My first reaction is that the US is not willing to exert real pressure while Sharon continues his programme. The US is giving him time to do what he wants to do.” –Ziad Abu Zayed, Palestinian Minister for Jerusalem affairs. “Arafat aide says Powell’s mission ‘a joke,'” The Irish Times, 4/19/02.

“In Washington, President Bush appeared to undermine his Secretary of State, Mr. Colin Powell, newly returned from his failed ceasefire mission. Mr. Powell seemed to sympathize with the Palestinian position that there could be no meaningful ceasefire effort while Israeli troops were deployed in and around Palestinian cities. Mr. Bush said that the Israeli Prime Minister, Mr. Ariel Sharon, had ‘started withdrawing’ troops and was standing by an agreed ‘timetable,’ while Mr. Arafat would be ‘called to account’ if he did not work to thwart terrorism… Mr. Sharon was ‘a man of peace’ who ‘wants Israel to be able to exist at peace with its neighbor,’ Mr. Bush said. Mr. Bush also appeared to back the continuing troop presence in Bethlehem and around Mr. Arafat’s besieged Ramallah headquarters.” –The Irish Times, “The stench of death is over many places,” 4/19/02.

“It was a gallant effort. But in the end he took nothing and he brought back nothing.” –The Rev. Jesse Jackson comments on Colin Powell’s trip to the Middle East. “Annan Seeks Probe of Israelis at Jenin,” Washington Post, 4/19/02.

“In the United Nations earlier, diplomats said US ambassador John Negroponte threatened to veto an Arab proposal for a UN investigation into Jenin, which was coupled with a call for international monitors to be sent to the region.” –Agence France Presse, “International aid efforts and calls for probe grow over Jenin camp,” 4/20/02.

Reclaim the Streets … for What Purpose?

On Saturday, April 20, there were three separate events in Seattle, all differing drastically in style. One was largely successful, but the other two were not, at least in terms of “getting out the message”–that one criteria by which most activists define success.

Starting the day, at five minutes to noon, the Rally to Wake up Washington assembled a huge list of sponsors and an even larger crowd. I’m not very good at estimating numbers of people, but the crowd filled Westlake Plaza. More importantly, the crowd was composed of people of all ages, families, labor union members, students, Arab-Americans, and, happily, a lot of mainstream people (often standing at the edge of the crowd, arms folded, looking a little uncomfortable to be at a rally, but very curious–listening, talking, and obviously hungry for information and debate).

A dialogue was going on. The message was getting out, new messages were being formed, messages were shouted back at the emcee. A march happened, negotiated on the spot with the police. An agreement was made to go up the sidewalk on Pine Street to Seattle Central Community College.

Police refused to allow demonstrators to take one lane of the street, even though that lane was closed to traffic. Still, the march was as dynamic as the rally, with numerous signs, leaflets, and loud and continuous chanting. George Bush, shame on you. Look where your taxes go. Stop aid to Israel. Free, free Palestine.

There were bystanders everywhere: in cars, on buses, in shops and cafés. Lining the sidewalk, leaning out of apartment windows, and peering out of car windows, folks shouted with the demonstrators, people listened, and some jeered. The message was everywhere.

At four o’clock, the Reclaim The Streets event had a different feel. It has a different purpose, after all: Reclaim The Streets is, essentially, a free-speech fight recast as a street party. It always draws a younger, edgier crowd. Punk music provides the message, as long as the crowd stays near the stage. That didn’t happen this year.

Police encircled the event with the intent to keep participants from spreading out onto the street, which was the event’s main intent. The Reclaim The Streets idea is to emphasize that streets are public space, to claim this public space for something other than the flow of commerce, and to validate the First Amendment right to assemble in public spaces, be they parks, plazas, or streets. RTS goes an additional step further by claiming that the First Amendment is enough; folks shouldn’t have to beg a permit from the City of Seattle to take to the streets. It’s, purely and simply, one of a long series of First Amendment fights that activists have waged for over 200 years in this country. RTS’ goal, however, is to do it non-violently–to take the fight out of it by making it a party.

The SPD, on the other hand, didn’t see the party at all. To them, it was a macho, territorial fight.

So when the Infernal Noise Brigade marched through the crowd, then headed off up Broadway away from SCCC, most of the crowd followed. If the police wouldn’t let them take the street at SCCC, they’d do it a few blocks away at Broadway and Thomas. Perhaps it’s morale-building to outwit the SPD; certainly it was entertaining to see Seattle’s finest pace around, aimlessly guarding an empty plaza. But when you become separated from the message, when a group lacks coherence and cohesiveness, it can easily become a pointless exercise that degenerates into an aimless scrabble with police.

For 45 minutes demonstrators stood in the middle of the intersection with nothing to do. RTS participants eschewed chants, signs, leaflets, and all the other “tired” means by which protest marches usually get the message out; in this case, that was a clear liability. There was some singing and beating of drums, but no message-making, and almost no dialogue. Bystanders and onlookers were few. Many were puzzled, and most moved on quickly. The contrast with the morning’s rally and march was obvious.

By the time cops caught up with the crowd to pepper spray and arrest a few people, demonstrators were already packing up to leave and join the six o’clock anti-globalization march. But the anti-globalization march, too, suffered from a lack of signs, chanting, leaflets, bullhorns, and other message-spreading techniques. Again bystanders were largely absent. People in the crowd just seemed too tired at the end of a long day to make the effort, particularly when the streets, sidewalks, and buildings were empty.

The police, however, had no trouble getting their message out loud and clear: the SPD would allow the permitted march (the six o’clock anti-globalization one) to march on the street as planned. The cops would escort a march up the sidewalk that had been negotiated by organizers with the police on the spot (the noon rally). But the SPD would use force to disperse any group that didn’t have a permit (the four o-clock Reclaim The Streets event).

That force was clearly excessive and unnecessary. Clad in riot gear, police pepper sprayed a crowd that was already beginning to disperse. In fact, one woman (a very small woman) was pepper-sprayed, thrown on the ground, and sat on by three large cops. She stopped breathing; cops said it was an allergic reaction to the pepper spray; however, three large men piled on her chest may have had something to do with it.

Another victim was thrown face-first into a brick wall. At least he was able to walk, handcuffed, to the Medic One car. It was as if the officers in charge that day wanted to spark some kind of violence from the crowd, so they could use their new crowd-control toys or justify the expense of calling out so many cops on a sunny Saturday afternoon and paying them overtime. Happily, demonstrators didn’t take the bait. If the RTS event didn’t succeed in getting out a coherent message, it did succeed in remaining non-violent.

But when the police can get their message out more clearly than demonstrators, something is wrong. Activists need to take a closer look at the “street party” concept and ask if it’s helping advance our First Amendment rights or making it harder for important, impromptu demonstrations with more urgent messages to take place without sparking immediate police reprisals.

Let’s not forget that our First Amendment rights exist so we can say something.

As the Whole World Watches

Two important things happened in the Middle East last week, one on the diplomatic front and one on the ground in the West Bank.

Colin Powell’s visit, which was largely a failure, was widely covered in the US press. But US media outlets blamed the failure to reach a ceasefire on the intransigence of Arafat and Sharon. Meanwhile the foreign press emphasized a great split within the US administration between Powell, who “sympathizes with the Palestinians” (in other words, he knows that no ceasefire can happen without an Israeli military withdrawal from Palestinian towns on the West Bank), and George Bush, Jr., who cut his own deal on the phone with Ariel Sharon, giving Sharon the go-ahead to do his own thing in his own time (i.e., Sharon has “a timetable,” and Bush Jr. thinks that’s just fine).

Powell had two goals for his visit–the ceasefire was just the first. The other goal was to set up a peace conference this summer. To that end, he was going to spend the last couple of days of his trip meeting with representatives of the US’ two main Arab allies in the region: Jordan and Egypt. Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, however, was so incensed by Powell’s failure to win an Israeli withdrawal, that he canceled his meeting with Powell and gave no excuse, leaving the media to speculate that Mubarak was “too ill” for the meeting. Probably he was made sick to his stomach by the Bush administration’s shenanigans … or by the reports trickling out of the Palestinian refugee camp at Jenin.

Last week, as Israeli tanks withdrew from Jenin, the world got its first look at what really happened there. On April 3, the Israeli Defense Forces had rolled tanks up to the outskirts of the camp and begun shelling. Helicopter gunships–American made–fired missiles and automatic weapons into the camp. For four days the bombing and shooting went on, damaging hundreds of houses and killing scores of people in the tiny, densely populated area where tens–if not hundreds–of thousands of Palestinians hundreds of houses and killing scores of people in the tiny, densely populated area where tens–if not hundreds–of thousands of Palestinians lived in houses whose walls were easily pierced by automatic weapons fire.

On the fifth day, teams of Israeli soldiers swept into the camp, ostensibly in search of “terrorists” and suicide bombers. They met resistance from a few Palestinian residents with aging Kalashnikovs and homemade bombs.

After one Israeli unit walked into an ambush where 13 IDF soldiers died, the troops pulled out and sent in tanks and armored bulldozers to indiscriminately demolish all houses in the heart of the camp, burying hundreds of people alive in their own homes. For 11 days, the IDF refused to allow Red Cross vehicles, ambulances, and search-and-rescue crews in to rescue the wounded and pick up dead bodies. No food convoys were allowed into the camp.

To really comprehend the destruction is impossible, even for people who’ve been inside a war zone or experienced a major disaster. In those situations, rescue teams begin their work within hours of the disaster. Aid begins to flow into the area within the first day. In Jenin, Ramallah, Nablus, Bethlehem, and other towns in the West Bank, however, the people have been suffering unimaginable horrors, with no rescue or help in sight. While George Bush calls Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon “a man of peace,” the rest of the world is seeing exactly what Sharon’s war against the civilian population of Palestine looks like. And it’s not pretty.

We can do something about it.

Colin Powell was hamstrung by the Bush administration, which gave him nothing to bargain with. Without the threat of withdrawing US aid–even just military aid–Powell could do nothing but beg Sharon to withdraw troops from West Bank towns. In the end, Powell was simply a messenger, an errand boy, someone that Sharon could safely ignore. George Bush and Co., in turn, can safely ignore the US people as long as we remain quiet.

It’s our duty to let Bush know what we think, to call, write, fax, e-mail the President, to march in the street, to talk to our friends and family members, to speak up as loudly and as often as we can, and to say: stop aiding a criminal government, stop the flow of aid to Israel, withdraw tanks and troops from the West Bank and Gaza Strip, support a Palestinian state, send in UN monitors, investigate the massacre at Jenin. End the violence now. Now. NOW.

The whole world is watching what we, the people of the United States, do about this. Will we disappoint them?

The Power to See and Feel

Four teenagers in a car pull up next to a man on a bicycle traveling 30 miles per hour. One of the teens leans out the window of the car and pushes the man off his bicycle. The car speeds away, all four teenagers laughing. The bicyclist suffers broken ribs and a punctured lung. Witnesses get the license number of the car and the kids are tracked down. None of them have been in trouble before; the one who pushed the bicyclists is considered a very good student.

Four teenagers cruising in a car–a different group this time and one composed of “average students” who’ve also never been in trouble before–spot two students from a rival high school walking to a nearby convenience store. One of the pedestrians is on crutches, his foot wrapped in a bandage. The four teens pull over, pile out of the car, and attack the two boys. They punch the healthy one in the face. The other boy is not so lucky. They steal his crutches, beat him with one, and hit him with a small baseball bat. Once he’s on the ground, one of the assailants stomps on his head.

The boy on crutches–formerly an athlete–is now in the hospital. He’s paralyzed on the right side of his body. His doctors think he may recover, but they can’t be sure. Head injuries can be tricky. Sometimes the patient makes a full recovery. Sometimes he or she recovers a bit and that’s all. Sometimes the patient never recovers much use of his or her body or mind. Always the patient is left wrestling with his or her health for years, if not the rest of a lifetime.

Two of the attackers were appalled to see the extent of the boy’s injuries and turned themselves in to police. How could they not have known what the consequences of their actions would be?

Simple. It’s all too easy these days for anyone to underestimate the effects of violence on another person.

We can start with Hollywood, which has a big impact on teenagers, who consume the bulk of movies released in any given year. Hollywood violence falls into two categories: the outright kill (usually of a bad guy), and the not-even-a-scratch-left-on-him (usually the good guy). There is no in-between: no scenes of families in the hospital being told by the doctor, “he has a blood clot in the left temporal lobe of his brain,” or “she has a fractured vertebra and no sensation in her legs.”

A case in point is the recent movie “Panic Room.” Reviewers gave it a unanimous thumbs-up, and described it as a suspenseful thriller in the Hitchcock mode. Some even called it “smart” and “realistic.”

In fact, it’s absurd. There are numerous scenes of physical violence in the film, all of them about as realistic as a Sylvester and Tweety Bird cartoon. In one particular scene a man is beaten so severely that without an immediate trip to an emergency room, he would die. Perhaps he would linger unconscious and in a coma for a while, but there’s no doubt that he’s a dead man. His assailant kicks him in the head–in the face, in fact–numerous times. Yet, minutes later, he’s sitting up in a chair, awake, talking, with a broken arm and some blood on his face. Improbably, his nose is still there, his jaws still attached and working properly. Impossible. He’s one of the good guys, of course.

Why do we wonder that our teenagers have no comprehension of just how fragile the human body is? Coked-out script writers and Hollywood producers haven’t got a clue, either. And they spread their ignorance with each piece of slick, pornographically-violent “entertainment” they produce.

What about recent, “realistic” war movies? Oddly, certain types of on-screen violence are deemed unsuitable for teenagers, hence the NC-17 rating. Those depictions, naturally, show the realistic effects of being shot. Arguably, a 13-year-old should see what it’s like to shoot someone or get shot. He or she might chose to not carry a handgun to school.

It’s not just Hollywood that’s to blame; that’s too simple an argument. Teenagers have other influences. For example, video games with modern graphics look more realistic every year. They still, however, retain the video-game ethic of endless fighting without realistic injuries.

Video games, of course, are fantasy. After all, the bad guy is often some weird alien or monster that doesn’t exist in the real world. Their purpose is to entertain, not educate. But violence as entertainment–even against a made-up monster–is a problem. Violence in the real world is never entertaining, except for the assailants that we label “psychotic.” Such people have lost or never had the ability to understand the pain they inflict on others. They have no empathy.

When we expose young people with limited experiences of life to unrealistic depictions of violence and tell them that it’s fun, are we turning them into psychotics? Many American teenagers have never been seriously injured, felt real pain, seen a loved one die or experienced a lingering illness. They know what it’s like to stub a toe, get a paper-cut, or skin a knee. They don’t know what it’s like to get hit in the head with a baseball bat. In fact, many American adults don’t know what that’s like.

As a society we need to talk more about violence and its effects. We need to talk one-on-one, at work, at school, at home, on the radio, on TV, and in the newspapers. We need to hear about what happened to the victims, read the gritty eyewitness accounts, see bodies lying in the streets and on the battlefields. We need to refuse the urge to protect ourselves and our children from “the unpleasant truth”–whether it happens in our own neighborhoods, in New York City, or in the Gaza Strip. Knowledge is power; in this case, the power to protect ourselves and our kids from one-on-one, senseless, thrill-seeking violence.

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