Saturday, September 20, 2014

Jacob David George, our brother



A news story headline from February 2013 that is part of our SOY display reads "VA: Suicides hit 22 per day."  That statistic just hit home in a terrible way when we learned that beloved Iraq Veterans Against the War member, singer-songwriter, bicycle activist, peacemaker Jacob David George, took his own life this week.  I remember meeting Jacob when he rolled into Austin by bicycle to attend the IVAW convention in July 2010.  His energy was contagious.  He crisscrossed the country on his bicycle to speak about his 3 army tours in Afghanistan and the moral injuries he sustained as a result.  His efforts to speak candidly about his pain and about his own views on the war were very meaningful for those who heard him speak and sing.

Jacob tried many kinds of treatment for his combat-related post-traumatic stress injuries.  He said that throwing his Army medals away during the IVAW protest at the NATO Summit in Chicago was one of the most healing actions that he had experienced.  He also returned to Afghanistan on a delegation with Voices for Creative Nonviolence to offer solidarity with the Afghan Peace Volunteers there.   The long term cure for war trauma is preventing war in the first place, and that was what Jacob was trying to do.  We mourn his death and the war that caused it.

Here are the lyrics to his song, "Support the Troops"

  “we just Need to support the troops"
is what they tell me

well, this is from a troop
so listen carefully

what we Need are teachers who understand the history of this country
what we Need is a decent living wage, so people ain’t cold and hungry
what we Need is bicycle infrastructure spanning this beauteous nation
what we Need are more trees and less play stations
what we Need is a justice system that seeks the truth
what we Need are more books and less boots

what we Need is love

for every woman and man
from southern Louisiana
to the mountains of Afghanistan

Now, it's true
The troops need support
the support to come home
they need treatment and jobs
and love for the soul

see,
war ain't no good
for the human condition
I lost a piece of who I was
on every single mission
and I'm tellin’ you,
don't thank me for what I've done

give me a big hug
and let me know
we're not gonna let this happen again
because we support the troops
and we're gonna bring these wars to an end

Jacob’s poem appeared in After Action Review, a collection of writings by vets published by Warrior Writers in 2011. He also transformed it into a song that he traveled around the country singing to the thumping strings of a banjo. With other vets, he did cross-country bicycle rides for peace. He liked to call himself “a bicycle ridin, banjo pickin, peace rambling hillbilly from Ouachita Mountains of Arkansas.”

A selection of Jacob George’s songs, from a collection called “Soldier’s Heart,” that he performed with a country band in Arkansas in 2013, was recorded in “Support Your Troops: A Special Report”:  

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2t-viGUx3-0

Thanks to Jan Barry for posting these lyrics on his website

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

SOY launches new semester with tabling at Austin HS

Our first tabling of the new school year was great!  We really enjoyed being able to talk with students at Austin HS today during lunch.  Our list of what to do for a free t-shirt grew longer, as we added another couple of activities, such as asking students to write their ideas for how to help stop and prevent war.




We provided our usual brochures on military realities, alternatives to military enlistment, and an assortment of stickers, paper folders and reprints of the comic book-style story of the Montgomery Bus Boycott that was produced by the Fellowship of Reconciliation.  Students were up to the t-shirt challenge and we appreciated their ideas toward International Day of Peace (coming up on Sept. 21).  Their responses to the question, "What could help stop or prevent war?" were these:


Results of the Penny Poll were almost equally tied priorities for Health Care, Education and the Environment (72, 72 and 71 pennies in those jars, respectively), 52 pennies for Humanitarian Aid and 42 pennies for the Military.


It was good to see this poster for a Global Student Leaders Summit on environmental sustainability and the announcement about the Spring 2015 trip to Costa Rica as part of that.  Austin HS has an Academy for Global Studies.  We agree that knowing more about the world is part of the solution!



Thursday, August 28, 2014

Youth Conservation Corps - a rewarding summer job



This summer, my cousin, Yusuf, a high school student in Pennsylvania, had a great job.  He worked with the Youth Conservation Corps (YCC) for 8 weeks, full-time at Valley Forge National Park.

YCC connects young people between the ages of 15 and 18 with work projects that help protect public lands in our national park system.  The Corps was founded in 1970.  Applicants are chosen by lottery, so previous park experience is not necessary.  Pay is federal or state minimum wage, whichever is higher.

I asked Yusuf about his summer job:

Q:  How did you learn about the program and how did you apply?


I first learned about the program, the Youth Conservation Corps, from a friend of mine who was thinking about applying.  When I learned the name of the program, I simply did a google search on the YCC and clicked on this link 

Q: What kinds of park work would a typical day include for you?

The first half of the day would usually consist of doing invasive plant removal in various locations around the park.  However, mornings were also dedicated to repairing the various Riparian Buffers around the park's major stream.  Two other days were dedicated to assisting the maintenance team at the park by repairing and replacing all the informational signs scattered around the park.  The second half of the day was almost exclusively dedicated to removing the invasive species of crayfish from Valley Creek and tallying the number of natives species found in the same creek.  Every Friday was an "education day" or field trip.  The Park Service arranged tours of other parks, museums, an aquarium, and a canoe trip.

Q: Did you work as part of a team, usually, or on your own, or both?

Everyone worked together as part of a team, if someone started to stray from the group, our supervisor would call them back and we would resume work.

Q: What are a few highlights from your summer?

The camaraderie among the group by the end of our job was the best part of working with the YCC.  At the beginning of the job, none of us knew each other and we barely spoke, but by the end we had come up with so many inside jokes and specific memories linked to particular people in the work crew. 
​​
​It should be noted that there is another group very much like the YCC called the Student Conservation Association.  We worked with our local branch of the SCA many times over the course of the summer.  It might also be a little easier to find an SCA group than a YCC group because the SCA is more widespread.  

So, if you are in high school and looking for a summer job that would help protect our environment and give you good job experience, consider applying to the Youth Conservation Corps.  Thanks, Yusuf! 

photos from the Valley Forge National Park flickr site 

Monday, August 25, 2014

Bernice King advises a way forward with nonviolence

 great piece by Rev. Bernice King, CEO of  the King Center for Nonviolence in Atlanta, GA

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Israeli resisters make a difference

Good article from Truthout:

Resistance Is Not Futile

Wednesday, 06 August 2014 10:51By Rory Fanning, Truthout | Op-Ed
2014 806 udi swUdi Segal, a 19-year-old Israeli from Kibbutz Tuval in north Israel, was sent to jail for refusing to enlist in the Israeli military. (Screengrab via Vimeo)The numbers are small, but there are Israeli military resisters actively fighting the occupation of Palestine within the borders of Israel. These draft age teenagers face enormous pressure from their government, family and peers to perpetuate state racism and the siege of the occupied territories. Despite the pressure, these brave Israelis adhere to their conscience and stand for justice in a society that increasingly rejects it. In addition to supporting the boycott, divestment and sanctions movement, resisting the Israeli occupation of Palestine from outside Israel involves standing in solidarity with those Israelis who find the courage to say, "I refuse." It is also the responsibility of US conscientious objectors like myself, to see the struggle of Israeli military resisters as part of our own struggle against US imperialism here at home.
Udi Segal, a 19-year-old Israeli from Kibbutz Tuval in north Israel, was sent to jail last week for refusing to enlist in the Israeli military. Segal is tall and skinny, with intense, blue eyes and a long angular face. In an interview with +972 Magazine, his last before being sent to jail, he appeared composed and resolute in his decision, despite his confessed fear of his imminent jail sentence.
"We are using refusal as a tool against the occupation, to end the occupation," Segal said. He was referring to 50 other sarvanim - Hebrew for "refuseniks" - who are members of the group Breaking the Silence, that wrote a letter to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in early March 2014. In the letter, they expressed their collective "opposition to the military occupation of Palestinian territories," where "human rights are violated, and acts defined under international law as war-crimes are perpetuated on a daily basis." There are now over 130 signatories to the letter, according to Segal.
Segel revealed more about his decision in a prior interview, where he said he refuses to serve not only because of the Israeli occupation of Palestine, but because the military supports a nationalist and capitalist system which benefits only a few at the expense of the majority. Segel called on other "soldiers and reservists to refuse orders and not participate in the massacre."
Segal went to a mixed Jewish-Palestinian grade school and Israeli public high school. He said the transition from grade school to high school was difficult. His high school in Kibbutz Tuval has one of the highest percentages of graduates in the country who go on to enlist as combat troops in the IDF. His decision to refuse service was met with silence by his friends and harassment by his peers.
When asked how he felt about conscientiously objecting during Operation Protective Edge, Segal said, "I think that in these times, as the government and the media attempt to silence any critical voice that deviates even slightly from the belligerent mainstream, I think now, specifically, it is important not only to refuse, but to act against the occupation. Especially now when the destructive results of the occupation can be seen on TV right before our eyes."
According to +972 Magazine, when Segal reported to the draft office last week to declare his intentions, he was greeted by chants: "Go to Gaza! You're all traitors! Gaza is a cemetery! Go get f**ked in the a**!" He was also told that this was his "gay coming out party," and was called a "son of a whore," in front of his mother who was there with him. This response to Segal is revealing, particularly in light of Israel's claims that it is a "haven for the LGBTQ community."
Israel requires all citizens with the exceptions of Palestinians and Orthodox Jewish women to serve in the IDF. Men are required to serve three years, and women must serve two. Like the conscription requirements during the Vietnam era in the United States, Israelis can dodge the draft if they are enrolled in higher education.
Refuseniks are rare in Israel: There are only a handful each year, which is a testament to the high levels of propaganda Israelis are fed and the pressure they face to defend militarism in a country with a mandatory draft. Yonatan Shapira, a former Israeli captain and Air Force pilot, was one of the organizers of a 2003 letter signed by 27 Air Force pilots who refused to participate in Israeli military operations against Palestinians. In an interview with Democracy Now! Shapira said:
Today, we are a minority of a minority of activists in Israel. Of course there are more and more people, but we are still a very, very small minority. We have people that are going to jail. I have a friend who is going to jail for refusing to enlist with the army. . . . But overall, there is a disease in my country, and the disease is spreading very fast, and it's called fascism and racism. Fascism and racism is now the biggest threat of the Jewish people in the Middle East.
The Israeli government distinguishes between pacifists who reject the use of force for any reason and those with "selective conscience," or those who specifically refuse to fight because of the occupation in Palestine. The latter are treated much more severely and are more likely to receive a prison sentence.
We know that not all war resisters come to full consciousness of war, empire and occupation - which is why we should stand with all who resist war in the name of peace and justice, even as they sort out their sometimes contradictory rationales. Nevertheless, we can glean much from the way Israel distinguishes between mere pacifists and resisters who vocally oppose the occupation of Palestine in solidarity with the occupied.
Uriel Ferera, a 19-year-old student and social activist, with Orthodox sidelocks dangling below his ears, was jailed in May for refusing to enlist because of his objection to Israel's treatment of Palestinians.
After being released from prison (he expects to be sent back again soon) Ferera said:
Prison was difficult for me. They isolated me. The other prisoners didn't know why I was in here, and I didn't receive any letters - they probably didn't want me to know about all the support on the outside.
I didn't want to put on a [prison] uniform even though they yelled at me for "putting on a show." I couldn't stand up and began shaking; the only thing I could do was pray and recite from the Book of Psalms by heart. Despite everything, I didn't stop praying. They laughed at me. They claimed that God won't hear me because he was too busy to get me out of there. There I realized that if they are able to humiliate a Jewish person like them, one can only imagine what they do to Palestinian teenagers in the occupied territories.
There are a few organizations in Israel that support such refusers: New Profile is a leading organization and movement of feminists inside Israel struggling to demilitarize the country and end the occupation of Palestine. The group was formed following the second intifada in 2000, when 500 Palestinian and Jewish citizens of Israel stood united on the Wadi Road, where only a few weeks prior Israeli soldiers killed a group of Palestinians. The group of feminists marched despite warnings from Israeli officials who claimed the area was dangerous. Not a single Hebrew or English-language media outlet covered the protest. Through 2006, the group organized at least a dozen marches where thousands of Israelis and Palestinians took to the streets to protest the occupation and militarized Israel. The media turned a blind eye to every march.
In Israel the most vocal critics of the occupation have been feminists. New Profile realizes that liberating women in a militarized Israeli society is directly connected to the liberation of all Palestinians. Thus women aspiring to refuse conscription turn to New Profile to gain the confidence to move forward with their decision. You can support and learn more about the group here.
Yesh Gvul was established in 1982 in response to the Israeli invasion of Lebanon. According to their website, Yesh Gvul was created as a result of "growing numbers of soldiers [who] grasped that the campaign, with its bloodshed and havoc, was an act of naked and futile aggression in which they wanted no part." In 1982, 168 Israelis were jailed for refusing to invade Lebanon. The actual number of refusals was much greater, but the Israeli government hid these numbers out of fear of giving the resisters a platform that would inspire other Israelis to reject military service.
Yesh Gvul counsels soldiers who are struggling with the possibility of becoming a war resister. Those who do conscientiously object get moral and financial support. The group also holds vigils at the military prisons where the soldiers are held. On their Facebook page, they report on the often-muted stories of draft age Israeli men and women who reject service in the IDF.
Courage to Refuse is another Israeli organization that supports military resisters. The group was formed in 2002 after 51 soldiers and reserve officers drafted a letter that decried the Israeli occupation of Palestine. The letter was run in the Israeli daily Haaretz and would become known as "The Combatants Letter." By 2005, the number of signatories of "The Combatants Letter" had reached over 600. The founders of the group said they would always refuse to participate in any military action outside of the borders that existed prior to the 1967 Six-Day War. "We shall not continue to fight beyond the 1967 borders in order to dominate, expel, starve and humiliate an entire people. We hereby declare that we shall continue serving in the Israel Defense Forces in any mission that serves Israel's defense. The missions of occupation and oppression do not serve this purpose - and we shall take no part in them."
Breaking the Silence, the organization that drafted the letter that Udi Segal signed, also supports Israeli military resisters. The members of this group served in the Israeli military since the start of the second intifada in 2000. Their mission is to explain the brutal conditions the Palestinians are living under in the occupied territories, conditions the soldiers have witnessed firsthand, to the Israeli public. They have over 100,000 followers on Facebook.
The US government subsidizes the Israeli military with more than $3 billon in aid each year. The occupation of Palestine and the recent massacres in Gaza would not be possible without US support. As a former member of the US Army Rangers, I can personally attest that the US military trains with and greatly admires Israeli soldiers. Israeli soldiers have gotten so good at door-to-door combat that the US military flies troops to Israel to learn from soldiers in the IDF.
We know that ending war is possible. The Vietnam War came to an end as a result of the anti-war movement at home and abroad, the resistance of the Vietnamese, and US soldiers refusing to fight. As we struggle to end the Israeli occupation of Palestine we look to the boycott, divestment, and sanctions movement, and the resistance inside Palestine. What we need is large numbers of Israeli soldiers to put down their weapons the way US soldiers eventually did in Vietnam. This is why we should raise up and support the small minority of Israelis who do resist.
US soldiers who oppose occupation and colonialism, and stand for human rights and self-determination, should refuse to train with Israeli soldiers. There needs to be a broader realization that the occupation of Palestine in Israel is much the same as the US occupation of Afghanistan or Iraq. If we hope to stop these horrific massacres, endless occupations and the slow death of those living in occupied territories and countries, we must join together with Israeli soldiers who refuse to fight.
Copyright, Truthout. May not be reprinted without permission.

RORY FANNING

Rory Fanning is a conscientious objector who walked across the United States for the Pat Tillman Foundation in 2008 to 2009, following two deployments to Afghanistan with the 2nd Army Ranger Battalion. He is a housing activist living in Chicago, Illinois and the author of the forthcoming book, Worth Fighting For: An Army Ranger's Journey Out of the Military and Across America (Haymarket, 2014). Follow him on Twitter @RTFanning.

Sunday, August 3, 2014

Global Youth Peace Summit


The Amala Foundation's annual Global Youth Peace Summit is taking place next week, near Austin, and includes youths representing some 28 countries. Check out this lovely video for more information about this people-to-people event.

Friday, August 1, 2014

50 Israeli Reservists declare their refusal to fight in Gaza

This was the most encouraging news of the week:

Open Letter by 50 Israeli Army Reservists on Why They Refuse to Fight in Gaza

Fifty reservists express opposition to the Israeli military apparatus, the war in Gaza and the conscription law.


Whenever the Israeli army drafts the reserves—which are made up of ex-soldiers—there are dissenters, resisters, and AWOLers among the troops called to war. Now that Israel has sent troops to Gaza again and reserves are being summoned to service, dozens are refusing to take part.
We are more than 50 Israelis who were once soldiers and now declare our refusal to be part of the reserves. We oppose the Israeli Army and the conscription law. Partly, that’s because we revile the current military operation. But most of the signers below are women and would not have fought in combat. For us, the army is flawed for reasons far broader than “Operation Protective Edge,” or even the occupation. We rue the militarization of Israel and the army’s discriminatory policies.
One example is the way women are often relegated to low-ranking secretarial positions. Another is the screening system that discriminates against Mizrachi (Jews whose families originate in Arab countries) by keeping them from being fairly represented inside the army’s most prestigious units. In Israeli society, one’s unit and position determine much of one’s professional path in the civilian afterlife.
To us, the current military operation and the way militarization affects Israeli society are inseparable. In Israel, war is not merely politics by other means—it replaces politics. Israel is no longer able to think about a solution to a political conflict except in terms of physical might; no wonder it is prone to never-ending cycles of mortal violence. And when the cannons fire, no criticism may be heard.
This petition, long in the making, has a special urgency because of the brutal military operation now taking place in our name. And although combat soldiers are generally the ones prosecuting today’s war, their work would not be possible without the many administrative roles in which most of us served. So if there is a reason to oppose combat operations in Gaza, there is also a reason to oppose the Israeli military apparatus as a whole. That is the message of this petition:
*      *      *
We were soldiers in a wide variety of units and positions in the Israeli military—a fact we now regret, because, in our service, we found that troops who operate in the occupied territories aren’t the only ones enforcing the mechanisms of control over Palestinian lives. In truth, the entire military is implicated. For that reason, we now refuse to participate in our reserve duties, and we support all those who resist being called to service.
The Israeli Army, a fundamental part of Israelis’ lives, is also the power that rules over the Palestinians living in the territories occupied in 1967. As long as it exists in its current structure, its language and mindset control us: We divide the world into good and evil according to the military’s categories; the military serves as the leading authority on who is valued more and who less in society—who is more responsible for the occupation, who is allowed to vocalize their resistance to it and who isn’t, and how they are allowed to do it. The military plays a central role in every action plan and proposal discussed in the national conversation, which explains the absence of any real argument about non-military solutions to the conflicts Israel has been locked in with its neighbors.
The Palestinian residents of the West Bank and Gaza Strip are deprived of civil rights and human rights. They live under a different legal system from their Jewish neighbors. This is not exclusively the fault of soldiers who operate in these territories. Those troops are, therefore, not the only ones obligated to refuse. Many of us served in logistical and bureaucratic support roles; there, we found that the entire military helps implement the oppression of the Palestinians.
Many soldiers who serve in non-combat roles decline to resist because they believe their actions, often routine and banal, are remote from the violent results elsewhere. And actions that aren’t banal—for example, decisions about the life or death of Palestinians made in offices many kilometers away from the West Bank—are classified, and so it’s difficult to have a public debate about them. Unfortunately, we did not always refuse to perform the tasks we were charged with, and in that way we, too, contributed to the violent actions of the military.
During our time in the army, we witnessed (or participated in) the military’s discriminatory behavior: the structural discrimination against women, which begins with the initial screening and assignment of roles; the sexual harassment that was a daily reality for some of us; the immigration absorption centers that depend on uniformed military assistance. Some of us also saw firsthand how the bureaucracy deliberately funnels technical students into technical positions, without giving them the opportunity to serve in other roles. We were placed into training courses among people who looked and sounded like us, rather than the mixing and socializing that the army claims to do.
The military tries to present itself as an institution that enables social mobility—a stepping-stone into Israeli society. In reality, it perpetuates segregation. We believe it is not accidental that those who come from middle- and high- income families land in elite intelligence units, and from there often go to work for high-paying technology companies. We think it is not accidental that when soldiers from a firearm maintenance or quartermaster unit desert or leave the military, often driven by the need to financially support their families, they are called “draft-dodgers.” The military enshrines an image of the “good Israeli,” who in reality derives his power by subjugating others. The central place of the military in Israeli society, and this ideal image it creates, work together to erase the cultures and struggles of the Mizrachi, Ethiopians, Palestinians, Russians, Druze, the Ultra-Orthodox, Bedouins, and women.
We all participated, on one level or another, in this ideology and took part in the game of the "good Israeli” that serves the military loyally. Mostly our service did advance our positions in universities and the labor market. We made connections and benefited from the warm embrace of the Israeli consensus. But for the above reasons, these benefits were not worth the costs.
By law, some of us are still registered as part of the reserved forces (others have managed to win exemptions or have been granted them upon their release), and the military keeps our names and personal information, as well as the legal option to order us to “service.” But we will not participate—in any way.
There are many reasons people refuse to serve in the Israeli Army. Even we have differences in background and motivation about why we’ve written this letter. Nevertheless, against attacks on those who resist conscription, we support the resisters: the high school students who wrote a refusal declaration letter, the Ultra orthodox protesting the new conscription law, the Druze refusers, and all those whose conscience, personal situation, or economic well-being do not allow them to serve. Under the guise of a conversation about equality, these people are forced to pay the price. No more.
Signed by 50 Israeli Reservists and published in the Washington Post, among other news outlets