We Believe the Slaughter of Innocents Is Just

Palestinians walk next to the remains of a destroyed 15 story building after being hit by Israeli airstrikes on Gaza City, Thursday, May 13, 2021. Abdel Kareem Hana/Associated Press appearing in Business Insider, May 13, 2021

The world watches as the Israeli Defense Force (IDF) invades homes, destroys property and lives, and shoots protesters to maim or kill them as if it were a sport. Earlier, July 23, 2021, I learned of the murder of Mohammed Muneer Al-Tamimi, 17 years old. He was shot by Israeli soldiers invading his village of Nabi Saleh to suppress an unarmed demonstration against Israel stealing their land. He was shot in the stomach, one of the Israeli Defense Force favored tactics. His family and sister have been very active resistors and thus targets.

 He is but one the latest examples of what I think of as Israeli Army sport killing. This behavior reminds me of Steven Spielberg’s 1993 film, Shindler’s List, in which the Nazi Commandant, Amon Goeth, played by Ralph Fiennes, makes a sport of randomly selecting and murdering camp inmates on a whim. The Israeli’s are far more intentional and murder with purpose.

Mohammed Muneer Al-Tamimi, 17 years old. Facebook picture posted by Iyad Burnat
Mohammed Muneer Al-Tamimi, 17 years old

We watch with indifference as Gaza is turned into a pile of rubble. The killing of innocents is ignored. We have been taught to believe it is right and just for the people of one particular nation to steal another people’s land and slaughter them while claiming the right of self-defense and self-preservation. This is the story Palestinians know well and is part of the hell they live and have endured since the 1948 Nakba. That was the day the State of Israel was created, and 750,000 Palestinians were made homeless, and more than 500 villages were destroyed. We pretend to believe that was right and just.

The Nakba would never have happened except for the Holocaust and guilt Western nations felt because of centuries of persecution, oppression, ethnic cleansing, and genocide against Jews.

To appease their consciences for the two millennia of persecution, Palestine was given to Zionist Jews. In so doing, they ignored it was occupied by Palestinians and had been for 2000 or more years, but is not that the legacy of the European conquest of the Americas? Is not that the American experience?

I visited Palestine, the West Bank, and Israel in 2016 with the Indiana Center for Middle East Peace. It took less than a day to see the complexity of how these people are intertwined to realize the two-state solution was a cruel fantasy promoted to distract us from reality. I saw first-hand the vilest form of racism the world has witnessed since the Holocaust in an atmosphere of arrogance, condescension, and an overwhelming sense of entitlement.

One morning as our group gathered outside the old city of Jerusalem at the Jaffe Gate to meet our tour bus, a school bus stopped to pick up Israeli elementary students. While I conversed with our group, I happened to look up to see a wide-eyed 7-8-year-old girl staring at me. My looking up failed to break her intent gaze. In her eyes, I saw fear, hate, distrust, concern, condescension, and terror. As I looked at her, I realized she revealed what a government possessed by a poisonous settler colonialist and racist ideology has promoted and taught its children and citizens. Instilling distrust, fear, and hatred of those defined as different is the tried-and-true way to maintain control and manipulate its citizens.

This observation was reinforced by visits to the Israel Museum, Jerusalem where groups of soldiers were guided to specific exhibits that amplified selected patriotic themes.

The same was true of the Yad Vashem, the Israeli Holocaust Museum. At its entrance is a quote by German journalist Kurt Tucholsky. It reads: “A country is not only what it does but what it tolerates.” I could not help but recognize the cynicism. It was a cynicism that also resonated as I thought about my country.

The design of the Yad Vashem takes you from the light and descends downward into darkness. Its low point is the high point of the Third Reich, then it ascends back into the light. At the exit, there is a large window that looks out onto a lush green garden. What you don’t know is that the green garden was once a Palestinian village massacred by radical Zionists in 1948. Tucholsky’s words and the garden built on the rubble of a village covering the bones of people whose crime was that they lived on land coveted by others reveals more than it hides.

           What is happening in Jerusalem, the West Bank, and Gaza is possible because the United States government, whether led by Democrats or Republicans, is complicit by providing billions of dollars to finance and support this regime and its racist apartheid policies.

Giving billions of dollars in aid without restrictions allows Israel to provide its people benefits we only dream of having. They benefit from the third-best free public healthcare system. They have access to free education and new settlers filling the illegal settlements in the Palestinian West Bank are provided free housing and other benefits.

The rubber bullets, tear gas, and stun grenades used to control, oppress, maim, and kill unarmed Palestinian protesters are provided by the United States. On May 18, 2021, in the middle of deliberate unrestrained violence against Palestinians, President Biden announced Israel would receive more than $735 million in weapons to replenish its arsenal. The munitions were used not to protect Israel from foreign aggression but to oppress and kill illegally occupied Palestinians. The United States supports Israeli attacks on unarmed Palestinians. Palestinians are armed only to the extent of Hamas having flimsy rockets it can launch into Israel. We repeat the absurd excuse of Israel’s right to protect itself, ignoring international law that obligates the occupying power to protect and preserve the people under its control and the people’s right to resist an oppressive occupation by any means available. 

By its example, the United States promotes and believes the slaughter of women, children, and the aged is justified while uttering mild complaints expressing concern for the safety of journalists. This meek protest caused Reverend Graylan Hagler at the Plymouth UCC in Washington, D. C. to suggest it was like the Biden-Harris administration going to the Grand Wizard of the Klan during a lynching and asking them to “show a little restraint.” 

The theft of Palestinian lands, the destruction of housing and communities, the denial of human rights, and the maintenance of total control over their lives are made possible by U.S. support of these Israeli war crimes. 

Israeli government policies are cancer-destroying democracy everywhere. It has used 73 years of Palestinian occupation to develop sophisticated means of oppression, control, repression, ethnic cleansing, apartheid, racism, and genocide it exports indiscriminately to any regime interested. Israeli writer and activist, Jeff Halper’s War Against the People: Israel, the Palestinians and Global Pacification describes in detail Israel’s “securocratic” war. That war includes helping militarize American police forces turning them into armies of occupation rather than agencies providing service and protection of citizens. It is no surprise seeing the rising number of cases such as George Floyd, Michael Brown, Brianna Taylor, and a host of others. 

On July 20, 2021, Ethan Paul published a report in Responsible Statecraft titled “Israeli—not Chinese—firm caught exporting its ‘authoritarian model.’ It revealed how an Israeli company with close state ties sold hacking software called “Pegasus” to China that was later used to hack Microsoft and other companies. The Biden Administration joined with the European Union less than 24 hours after this story broke to attack China for organizing a global cyber hacking campaign. Curiously, the Israeli source for providing this technology to China was never mentioned. It also raises the question of U.S. support for promoting authoritarian technology and means of control to what purpose.

America is an example of the tail wagging the dog. Our politics and foreign policy are influenced and controlled by a powerful lobby and a foreign power that interferes in our electoral and political process at will without consequences. 

When I think about that little girl on the bus that morning staring at me, I am reminded of what happens when we allow our fears, ignorance, bigotry, and tribal mentality to drive us to embrace our worst instincts and behaviors. When you hate, you become what you hate.

Israel, regardless of the future outcome in Palestine, will never recover from what it has made itself into. It has been destroyed by its own hate. When I think of this tragedy, I am reminded of another quote by Kurt Tucholsky. “Those who hate most fervently must have once loved deeply; those who want to deny the world must have once embraced what they now set on fire.” Sadly, we must acknowledge the final tragic consequence of Nazism and the Holocaust was passed down to the descendants of those who survived that hell. Their embrace of Zionist ideology exhibiting racism and hate exposed by its policies in Palestine is now being spread. It is cancer we must remove to preserve democracy.

More troubling is the United States playing a pivotal role in being comfortably complicit with the slaughter of innocents who protest peacefully against their oppressors. Our support reveals and reflects our history believing murder, ethnic cleansing, denying people their human rights, and genocide are justified and just. Americans would do well to think about Tucholsky’s words that “a country is not only what it does but what it tolerates.” Obviously, six million Jews and at least five million others died without learning one of history’s primary lessons expressed by German philosopher George Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel. “We learn from history that we do not learn from history.” And so, it goes. Love and Serve

Wabi-Sabi       Namaste

Also on Medium: Jerrymlawson.medium.com & Data Driven Investor: https://www.datadriveninvestor.com/2021/08/17/we-believe-the-slaughter-of-innocents-is-just/

Failure and Defeat in Afghanistan

Taliban in Presidential Office in Kabul, Al Jazeera photo

The Afghanistan government fled into the night, taking the last plane to a safe haven, abandoning the people they were allegedly elected to serve and protect. America’s longest war is over. The farce we created disappeared into the night.

The United States has spent at least $6.4 trillion since 2001 on wars in the Middle East. According to a report published by The Watson Institute of International and Public Affairs at Brown University, those wars have killed 801,000 people. The report says of those dead, more than 335,000 have been civilians. Another 21 million people have been displaced due to the violence.

In Afghanistan, 2,448 American service members have died along with 3,846 American contractors, bringing the total to 6,202 American dead plus another 1,145 dead from NATO allies. The acknowledged dead stands at 7,247, a number that no doubt understates the reality.

We spent 20 years on a fool’s errand in our Middle Eastern adventures, wasting and squandering more than $6.4 trillion of our treasure to be defeated and run out of Dodge by an opponent lacking any of our weaponry or sophisticated technology. What did the American people get in return?

We did not spend money on repairing and replacing our aging infrastructure. Our bridges, highways, and other services all require massive reinvestment. We have allowed our education system to deteriorate. We deny the validity of science. We have reduced vital social services, and health care is on life support. We did this for the sake of empire.

The question before us as we see pictures of the Taliban sitting in the presidential office in Kabul, Afghanistan, is what and who do we want to be? We can be an empire or a democracy, but we cannot be both. We are an economic empire that uses over a hundred military bases and outposts in over 100 countries spread around the world to protect, project, and spread our influence and control. We do this at tremendous cost in every respect: economically, environmentally, socially, politically, psychologically, and otherwise.

The Pentagon is a virtual black hole where money is sucked in, no accounting is done, and the value is disproportionately small compared to the money spent. The military-industrial complex is the primary beneficiary. When we see what Russia and China can accomplish with much less investment, we should be concerned.

The question today as we absorb the loss of another war is what we want to do. Who and what do we want to be? The present course of empire is dead-end. At home, our democracy is under attack and in peril of being destroyed by those who desire its demise.

Our defeat in Afghanistan can serve as a wake-up to change our direction and abandon the quest for empire and control, or we can descend into the darkness of authoritarianism, fascism, autocracy, and superstition. The choice is ours. 


Also at Jerrymlawson.medium.com

The Value of Trees and Combating Global Warming

Photo by Matt Palmer on Unsplash

I love trees. Maybe that makes me a kind of an outlier because we Americans and most of humanity seem to hate or only want to exploit them for whatever cash we can squeeze. The economic paradigm we adhere to and have believed since at least Adam Smith’s publication of Wealth of Nations in 1776 holds that land has no value unless it is improved. So, cutting down the forest improves and increases its value. Draining wetlands raises the land value. Extraction, drilling, and fracking all have a higher value than protecting and preserving what exists. Nature and people have no value in this model, beyond providing what our greed and lust for material wealth and profit offer. We are human production units with limited value or utility.

We are the only species on this planet that take what we want and return nothing to replenish and reinvest in the Earth to ensure its sustainability. Our economic model is narrow, short-sighted, fatally flawed, and will soon lead to the collapse of our civilization and quite possibly the extinction of our species. 

How different we might be, not to mention the Earth, if we had developed an understanding and appreciation of the value of things surrounding us, we take for granted. What if we had retained what our alleged primitive hunter-gatherer ancestors knew well. Our approach to global warming and climate change would be seen from a different perspective. Imagine if we did not believe the value of land cleared of trees and turned into a pasture or a parking lot as having a higher value than if we left the trees alone.

Kurt Vonnegut once suggested we need a Secretary of the Future whose purpose would be to represent the future of the yet-to-be-born. Native Americans, whom we saw as savages to be exterminated so we could have their land, saw it as their responsibility to look ahead seven generations to ensure their sustainability. Savages indeed! Think about what that would do to the way we view everything. Unfortunately, the economic paradigm we have developed is based upon dominance and giving no value to people, the environment, and no thought about the future. Both people and the Earth are viewed as being disposable. 

The question we have never bothered to ask is what the value of a tree is. At least, until now. Professor T.M. Das of the University of Calcutta decided to try and answer it. Professor Das determined a tree of any variety living for 50 years generates $31,250 worth of oxygen, provides $62,000 of air pollution control, controls soil erosion, and improves soil fertility amounting to $31,250. This partial list does not include the value of any fruits a tree may bear, lumber, or intangibles such as beauty and shade. Das puts the value of an ordinary run-of-the-mill 50-year-old tree at $193,250. Scientists recently noted if we were to engage in a massive restoration, planting 1.2 trillion trees, we could cancel a decade of CO2 emissions.

Since our current economic models attach no financial worth to the environment, nature, or to people, we fail to take these values into consideration when we are ripping up and burning down forests to make way for ‘improvements.’ Our current economic model does not consider a forest or woods to be the highest and best use of the land, and trees, unless they have a commercial value as lumber or produce fruit, nuts, or some extractable products are just something in the way of achieving what we desire. So, we cut them and turn them into pulp to make paper or simply burn them, adding more CO2 to the atmosphere and adding to global warming.

On October 13, 1994, the late Astronomer Carl Sagan made a powerful observation about our predicament as a species in a speech at Cornell University about a photograph taken by the Voyager I from six billion kilometers (3.7 billion miles) from Earth. In the photograph, our Earth was a barely perceptible tiny blue dot. Sagan said,

“Look again at that dot. That’s here. That’s home. That’s us. On it everyone you love, everyone you know, everyone you ever heard of, every human being who ever was, lived out their lives. The aggregate of our joy and suffering, thousands of confident religions, ideologies, and economic doctrines, every hunter and forager, every hero and coward, every creator and destroyer of civilization, every king and peasant, every young couple in love, every mother and father, hopeful child, inventor, and explorer, every teacher of morals, every corrupt politician, every “superstar,” every “supreme leader,” every saint and sinner in the history of our species lived there — on a mote of dust suspended in a sunbeam.

The Earth is a very small stage in a vast cosmic arena. Think of the rivers of blood spilled by all those generals and emperors so that, in glory and triumph, they could become the momentary masters of a fraction of a dot. Think of the endless cruelties visited by the inhabitants of one corner of this pixel on the scarcely distinguishable inhabitants of some other corner, how frequent their misunderstandings, how eager they are to kill one another, how fervent their hatreds.

Our posturing’s, our imagined self-importance, the delusion that we have some privileged position in the Universe, are challenged by this point of pale light. Our planet is a lonely speck in the great enveloping cosmic dark. In our obscurity, in all this vastness, there is no hint that help will come from elsewhere to save us from ourselves…”

I hope you can see the irony in our behavior as a species, especially at this moment when we have more than adequate data and information to alert us to the self-defeating, absurd, and irrational behavior we continue to engage in. We continue to divide ourselves into little tribes or nations and become slaves to the behavior encoded in our DNA and seek to destroy “others” we perceive as competitors seeking resources necessary for our survival or simply having a skin color that is a bit different from ours.

You would think 26 years after Sagan’s speech that some of it would have sunk in and awakened enough of humanity to help shape and alter our course, but looking around, we see the fires burning, the temperatures rising, the ice melting, floods, and continuing slaughter of each other, apparently not.

Dark as the picture is and may seem, there are signs of hope mostly tucked away from view and our awareness. One such sign is the results of an experiment on tiny Ascension Island in the South Atlantic.

Ascension is an island of only 34 square miles (88 square kilometers). The British Overseas Territory was essentially a barren rock pile when Charles Darwin visited there at the end of his second voyage aboard the HMS Beagle in 1836.

The Spanish explorer, Joao da Nova, discovered Ascension Island in 1501. It attracted no interest due to its dry climate and little freshwater. Passing ships continued to stop so sailors could catch seabirds and turtles, but no permanent habitation.

Settlement of Ascension did not arrive until the British Navy placed a garrison in 1815 as insurance against any attempted escape by Napoleon, exiled on Saint Helena some 800 miles to the southeast. It became an imperial outpost and a rest stop for scientific explorers like Darwin and his friend botanist Joseph Dalton Hooker.

Darwin was on his way home after his five-year exploration mission on the HMS Beagle when it stopped at Ascension Island in 1836. He had visited Saint Helena first and came to Ascension out of curiosity and a desire to compare the two islands. He found little on Ascension Island. It was an arid island buffeted by dry trade winds from Southern Africa with sparse vegetation and few animals or insects. There were no trees, and the little rain that fell quickly evaporated. The Scarcity of freshwater impeded the growth or expansion of the imperial outpost.

Despite its shortcomings, Darwin was intrigued. A few years later when Joseph Hooker embarked upon his scientific study, Darwin encouraged him to stop at this barren outpost. After returning to London in 1843 and with encouragement from Darwin, Hooker, the botanist, devised a plan to alter the Ascension Island environment.

Hooker’s father was the Director of the Royal Botanical Gardens, Kew. Hooker, assisted by his father, arranged for trees to be shipped to Ascension to use them to capture the rain. They hoped that using trees to capture moisture from the rain would help make the soil fertile and change the barren island into a lush garden. It was hope without any evidence or example suggesting the plan might work.

Over the years that followed, new shipments of trees of many varieties were shipped annually from botanical gardens in Europe, South Africa, and Argentina. By the last quarter of the nineteenth century, the island was home to Norfolk pines, eucalyptus, bamboo, and banana trees. The 2,817-foot Green Mountain, highest on the island, was transformed into a cloud forest characterized by a persistent low-level cloud cover.

The trees drew moisture from the clouds, enriching the soil and allowing other vegetation to thrive as hoped. Darwin and Hooker assisted by the Royal Navy turned the barren island landscape into a lush oasis. The success of this experiment was far beyond their expectations.   

What Darwin, Hooker, and the Royal Navy created was the first self-sustaining and self-reproducing ecosystem. What might we learn from this first attempt in terraforming? The environment they created is artificial. It has a mixture of plants and trees that do not belong together in nature, but they are growing side-by-side. Such ecosystems as this should take over a million years to develop through a slow process of co-evolution. This ecosystem was built over a few decades by the Royal Navy. The lessons learned here are of immense future importance. It tells us we can create a fully functioning ecosystem through careful planning, trial-and-error, and aided by a few chance accidents.

The process is now known as ecological fitting. The plants on Ascension were collected from locations around the world and have self-organized into a thriving artificial system. The success accomplished on Ascension Island remains relatively unknown and largely ignored by the scientific community. Its implications have immense potential importance both in our need to restore the Earth and when we try to reshape environments on other worlds.

To combat and mitigate the effects of global warming, we must change our thinking and behavior. Rather than taking from the Earth by drilling, extracting, stripping, and pumping resources, we must invest in restoring the environment and ecosystems to protect its health, sustainability, and welfare. Creating artificial ecosystems by planting large-scale planned forests may not be our first choice, but it may become the only choice. The knowledge and expertise we acquire have implications and impact on what we do later elsewhere on the Earth. We may learn how to turn deserts green again that we created by our rush to extract, drill, and pump Earth’s bounty to support our greed and lust for material gain.

Green mountain shows us much about how ecosystems form and function in ways we never imagined. It may help us understand how an ecosystem can be constructed and used for carbon sequestration to combat global warming. Planned forests may lack the diversity and the regional peculiarities we find in nature, but they may be the price we have to pay to save our world, given what we have lost and are losing in our currently rapidly warming one.

History and experience suggest humans do not want to face reality. We try our best to avoid difficult choices and making painful decisions, even when our very survival is at risk. We seem unable to defer on pleasure even knowing continuing a behavior leads to death. Consequently, acknowledging we must learn to live within the sustainable limits of Earth’s capacity to regenerate is a requirement and not a choice.

Why? Because it is the only path that does not lead to the destruction of the Earth and our extinction. If we survive this test, we may finally understand wherever we go into the cosmos we will take Earth with us. We share half our DNA with every living thing in this world. Before we go elsewhere, we must have a healthy Earth to draw from and return. We must recreate Earth wherever we go. Any life we find elsewhere will undoubtedly be toxic to us. Bringing the Earth with us wherever we go is not a choice. It is a necessity. 

Global warming and climate change make studying and understanding what has taken place on Ascension Island imperative to restoring the Earth. Here lies a gift for us, hidden on a small forgotten island in the middle of nowhere. We only need to see and take advantage of what we have inherited. It may provide us with what we need to know and use to save ourselves and most life on Earth, but the time for action is now.

Love and Serve           Wabi-Sabi                   Namaste

Also available at: Jerrymlawson.medium.com

Tree of Infinite Possibilities

The tree above represents more than I can convey in words. It is a visual reminder of where I am, what I face, and what the end of my journey may be. It is also an image of hope, possibility, potential, and promise. It is the symbol of life overcoming death. It is the symbol of renewal and vitality that comes with the birth of the new. It embraces its past while building upon it to create a different future. This is where I stand at this moment.

I have been diagnosed with stage 4 lung cancer. There is no promise of a cure. Death and adversity are at the edge of my consciousness watching. The future will be as it will be. My choice is to use whatever there is of it in the best way I can to love and serve others. That is my intention and my quest. It has many different manifestations. I have a range of options available to fulfill my purpose as revealed in the clarity, awareness, and truth gifted to me in an instant on Valentine’s Day, 2021. Over the days, weeks, and months that have followed, I have watched the wall of fog recede as my consciousness evolved. I am in awe and gratitude for this gift.

To help you understand, I will share what another more famous person who had a similar moment said about his experience:

“I had an experience I cannot prove; I cannot even explain it. But everything

            that I know as a human being, everything that I am tells me that it was real.

            I was part of something wonderful, something that changed me forever.

            A vision of the Universe that tells us undeniably how tiny, and insignificant, and how

            Rare and precious we all are. A vision that tells us we belong to something greater

than ourselves. That we are not, that none of us is, alone.     –Carl Sagan

Sagan’s words echo across time and space, revealing the simplicity of truth. We fail to see because our reality serves as a veil that becomes an opaque barrier we cannot see through. We are trapped by the very nature of the world we’ve constructed. To see through the veil, we must dismantle the reality we believe, adhere to, and uphold. The lens we see our world through. We need insight and clarity. We need to be in this moment. We need to abandon what we’ve known and what is comfortable, warm, and reassuring.

Our lives are a journey into an unknown future accompanied by three companions whose presence we either treasure or try not to recognize nor acknowledge. They are death, adversity, and hope. They are never far away, one or another often intruding and interrupting our journey for good or ill. Fortunately, we have hope as our ally in our third companion. Hope, a little four-letter word so filled with possibility. It is with us and is the buffer between our other two companions. The challenge we face is to always be flexible, adaptable, aware, open, and willing to surrender to the direction our journey takes us.

We do not quit when challenged. We do not give up, but we surrender. Surrendering is a different proposition. Surrendering allows us the means to overcome, persevere, and grow to be more than we were before meeting and surmounting the adversity we are faced.

We must take to the road of the twisted path and unknown adventure with death and adversity always following close by. We often have help from friends and family, but we face these two companions alone. Who we are and what we become have much to do with our interacting with them. We grow only by facing and overcoming the obstacles they place in our path. Resilience, a positive attitude, and focusing on living life to its fullest in this moment, are our most powerful weapons in overcoming their menace.

To make matters more interesting, I learned from my doctor that my form of lung cancer is caused by a mutant gene. Being told this, I smiled. But of course, it would have to be a mutant, a rogue. A mutant gene explains why I’m facing this challenge. The rebel. The outlier. The non-conformer, a mutant that answers the call of its own selfishness. It is a metaphor for all we must face. Let the journey begin. Love and serve. Namaste


Also on Medium: Jerrymlawson.medium.com