Friday, January 23, 2009

News from Gaza

This is not for the squeamish. It is one of the most disgusting, awful things I've ever read -- a letter from Barbara Lubin who is in Gaza bringing medicines and food. I've long said that Israel is better than the Nazis, but that's too low a standard. Now I can't give Israel even that much credit.

You can help get food and medicine to the Palestinians by donating to the Middle-East Children's Alliance

January 23, 2009
Dear Jack,

I entered the Gaza Strip on Wednesday night with my friend and fellow activist Sharon Wallace after waiting ten hours at the Egypt/Gaza. The destruction and trauma is even greater than I expected.

In just two short days I met with families who were given minutes to evacuate their homes and are now living in overcrowded UN schools; I saw the ruins of bombed greenhouses; I looked out the window at fields and roads torn up by the tread of Israeli tanks; and I visited two universities where MECA supports students with scholarships-severely damaged by Israeli bombs.

Out of all the devastation I have seen so far, there is one story in particular that I think the world needs to hear. I met a mother who was at home with her ten children when Israeli soldiers entered the house. The soldiers told her she had to choose five of her children to "give as a gift to Israel." As she screamed in horror they repeated the demand and told her she could choose or they would choose for her. Then these soldiers murdered five of her children in front of her. The concept of "Jewish morality" is truly dead. We can be fascists, terrorists, and Nazis just like everybody else.

I spent the first morning visiting Rafah then drove north to Nuseirat Refugee Camp where our partner organization Afaq Jadeeda Association is buying food a delivering cooked meal to displaced families with funds MECA provided. Then to Gaza City.

Today I visited Jabaliya Refugee Camp and the Zaytoun neighborhood of Gaza City, two of the areas hardest hit by Israel's brutal attacks. Pharmacies, schools, and homes were indiscriminately hit in Jabaliya. Mohammed, one of our volunteers in Gaza, and his family were forced to evacuate their home because of intense bombing in their area.

In Zaytoun, I saw families gathering wood from charred trees. The almost two-year blockade of Gaza has deprived people cooking gas, so these terrified families build fires to keep warm and cook the little food they can get.

I talked to people on the street who told stories of wild dogs coming to eat their dead neighbors, relatives bleeding to death because Israel would not allow emergency workers into the area, and Israeli soldiers entering homes to beat and kill.

But despite the immense mourning and devastation, people are starting to put their lives back together. Sabreen, a young woman from Rafah, told me, "We are a strong people. No matter how many times Israel bombs us we are not leaving. We will keep trying to live as normal a life as possible."

Barbara Lubin
Gaza City, Gaza, Palestine

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Hope and Change

Assalaamu Aleikum

I sat at my desk this morning watching the inauguration of President Barack Hussein Obama, and after the historic event itself I had to turn off the TV, ostensibly to get to work, but who can work? Since this morning I’ve been on an emotional roller coaster, sometimes crying, sometimes ecstatic, sometimes exhausted with the relief of waking up from a horrible nightmare. Several horrible nightmares.

President Barack Hussein Obama. Saying that aloud, or just repeating the phrase in my head, it’s like listening to the angels sing. I remember attending Dr. King’s march on Washington. I remember the TV news with Sheriff Clark in Selma Alabama attacking civil rights marchers with dogs and fire hoses. I remember the freedom rides, the marches, black friends telling me how they couldn’t get service at a restaurant or a hotel. Only two years before I was born my mother went to the only public high school in her county, and black students were not allowed. Any who wanted a high school education had to go to the next county, and their family had to make any arrangements for travel, lodging, etc… And with such segregation, what kind of school would be awaiting those who made the effort? In my lifetime we have gone from Jim Crow segregation to having a black President, no less one with an African name reflecting his Muslim roots.

I remember coming out in 1970 when Illinois was the only part of the US where lovemaking between two men wasn’t a criminal act, when being gay was a shameful secret, when the only ones who were out were the few weirdos too flaming or radical not be in a closet. And how they paid the price! Bashings were common, even murders. Forget getting a decent job, and you were very lucky if your family wouldn’t banish you.

Things do change. In fact change is the only constant.

Now in contact online with GLBT folks in Muslim countries I hear their stories and try to offer hope. “Oh, but here is not like in America” they tell me. No, it’s not like America now. It’s like America 40 years ago. And it will change. We have changed. You will change.

The world is all about change, and today we have seen a change that is a culmination of centuries of striving and sacrifice on the part of so many African Americans who worked so hard to give their children better chances than they ever had, not to become president, but sometimes just to get their kids a decent education or a decent meal, and all too often just to survive the slave market and the whip, to escape the dogs and the lynchings.

President Barack Hussein Obama. Oh, how I love saying that! I have my reservations and doubts about this particular man. I’ve followed his record, and as we should regard any politician I only trust him so far, but after what we’ve had, we can at least count on President Barack Hussein Obama to be a huge improvement. He has a very tough road ahead of him and I hope and pray that he is up to the challenges. Jimmy Carter, a good, humane, and very intelligent man stumbled under the load of wreckage he inherited from his Republican predecessors. We enter uncertain times with the handicaps of the last eight years of hideous malfeasance. And for all that the mere fact that we have a president named Barack Hussein Obama and that suddenly our White House is not so entirely white, all inspires hope beyond reason.

President Barack Hussein Obama. Why does a black man in that White house matter to gay kids in Pakistan, Yemen, and Malaysia? Exactly because he does show that there is change, there is reason to hope, that things can eventually get better, and that there is a historical wave washing humanity of its prejudices, all our most stupid bigotries.

When I was a little boy with my family at Martin Luther King’s March on Washington, I had no idea that one of the organizers at that march was a man named Bayard Rustin, an African-American community organizer who helped Dr. King learn the ways of Mahatma Gandhi. Rustin had been arrested and exposed as a homosexual 10 years earlier and it hurt his career in the movements for peace and racial equality. He was much kept away from the cameras for fear of scandal, but Dr. King kept him close and never shied away from Rustin’s friendship, never pushed him out of sight.

And just a few months ago we saw a movie about Harvey Milk, a gay community organizer in the 1970’s. He learned organizing tactics from the example of Martin Luther King who had learned from Bayard Rustin who learned from Gandhi’s followers in India. And Harvey Milk came to the same end as Dr. King, and Mahatma Gandhi, and so many others, and perhaps that’s part of why I’ve been crying today – for Martin Luther King and Malcolm X, for the four little girls in Montgomery, for Emmett Till, Medgar Evers, James Chaney, Viola Luzzo, and so many others who were murdered on this terrible road of necessity. And make no mistake, racism is still strong in America and there is so much work left to do, but here we are with our president Barack Hussein Obama, showing that for all the work ahead of us there is so much that is truly, at last behind us.

And with President Barack Hussein Obama we already have four open gays and lesbians in high posts in the White House. Just twenty years ago that would have been impossible. Change happens. Wherever you are, whenever you are living, change happens!

Never forget that. Never forget that God is compassionate and merciful and that no matter how bad things are, and however slow and difficult the road is, change happens.


Monday, January 12, 2009

Gays for Gaza Demonstration in the Castro

Saturday 10 January 2009

The rally for Gaza at the San Francisco Civic Center went well, pretty much as expected and by the numbers. Over a thousand, maybe 2 thousand ofr us rallied, we marched around downtown, came back to Civic Center. There were maybe a hundred Zionist demonstrators across the street by City Hall.

My signs were much photographed and appreciated. On one side

“Never Again”
must be a cry in defense
for all humanity.
If it is used to justify brutality against others
it makes us no better than our past oppressors.

And on the other:

German Jews 1939
Palestinians 2009
Property confiscated and destroyed
Food & basic medical care denied
Deprivation of jobs & livelihood
Religious discrimination/Racism
Mass Round-ups & Detentions
Mixed marriages outlawed
Squalid relocation camps
Children murdered
Resistance labeled as “terrorists”
Settlements = Lebensraum
“Never Again” is for everyone!
What did we learn from the Holocaust?

The “Never Again” side, in larger print was clearly visible across the street when I held it up to the Zionists.

Where it got a little more interesting was in the Castro at 3:00 where Queers Undermining Israeli Terrorism in Palestine (QUIT Palestine) led a demonstration of GLBT support for Gaza. We had several dozen, maybe 50 people at Harvey Milk Plaza. What would have been a nice little hour, maybe an hour and half of waving signs and chanting was energized into so much more by a group of about a dozen Zionists across the street from us. We really should thank them for giving us so much focus and energy.

Having taken a lunch break between the two demos I got to the Castro a little late and when I arrived some of our folks were on both sides of the street. I decided to go where the fun was. The anger and vehemence were so – well, scary. They weren’t seriously dangerous then and there, but they were spitting out insults and names, making odd assertions and screaming “Lies!” at any disagreement.” One guy instantly asked me when was my last therapy appointment. One woman said, “Did you know all the Gay Arabs are fleeing to Israel?” A few, yes, most no. (And never mind the absurdity of her statement!) “Oh, you’re such a liar!” she yelled. Some of the women kept shouting “Remember Mumbai!” Which has what to do with Israel and Palestine? I guess that Muslims are scary terrorists – unlike the IDF bombing schools and hospitals in Gaza.

We eventually went back to “our” side of the street and not only did we have many more people, but we clearly had more gay people, and we even had more Jews on our side of the street. As for all those gay Arabs fleeing into Israel from oppression in their own lands, all the gay Arabs present were on our side.

Finally they rolled up their flags and went home, and after a little bit longer, so did we.