Stanley Heller interviews various Americans before embarking to break the blockade on Gaza.
For almost 40 years, Albert Woodfox and Herman Wallace have been in solitary confinement at Louisiana’s infamous Angola State Prison, in what is thought to be the longest period of enforced solitude in America’s vast prison gulag. Amnesty International says their treatment is “cruel and inhumane and a violation of the US’s obligations under international law.” Woodfox is now 64 years old, and Wallace is 69. They are two of the original Angola 3, convicted of the murder of a prison guard in 1972. The other member of the trio, Robert King, was released after 29 years in solitary confinement after pleading guilty to a lesser charge.
Under the conditions of solitary confinement, Woodfox and Wallace are restricted to their tiny cells for 23 hours a day. Three times a week, for an hour, they are allowed to exercise in an outdoor cage, if weather permits. For 40 years, they have not been allowed access to work or to education. And there has been no legitimate review of their cases in all that time.
There was never any physical evidence of the men’s guilt, only the very questionable testimony of other inmates, one of whom was bribed by officials and another of whom retracted his testimony. Woodfox and Wallace and King have been subjected to the greatest cruelties Louisiana has to offer because they became political prisoners after entering Angola, when they formed a prison chapter of the Black Panther Party. One prison official says flatly, that “there’s been no rehabilitation” from “practicing Black Pantherism.” In other words, the prison considers their politics to be their crime.
Albert Woodfox’s conviction has twice been overturned by lower courts on the basis of racial discrimination, prosecutorial misconduct, inadequate defense and suppression of evidence. But the U.S. Court of Appeals decided that Woodfox’s fate was Louisiana’s business. Amnesty International demands only that the two elderly prisoners be released from solitary. Woodfox and Wallace, it should be pointed out, became political prisoners after initially being incarcerated for criminal offenses.
There are scores of U.S. political prisoners that have languished behind bars for three or four decades. The National Conference of Black Lawyers has been pressing for their outright release, especially those who were wrongfully imprisoned due to the FBI’s COINTELPRO operation, which sought to “neutralize” and destroy radical political activists and organizations – most notably the Black Panther Party. In the cases of those targeted by COINTELPRO, it was the federal government’s lawlessness that led to a lifetime in prison. Therefore, the U.S. government is obligated to free them. But the United States continues to deny that there is such a thing as a political prisoner within its borders. The Obama administration is always eager to claim that other countries are abusing their political prisoners. It also says it wants to play an active role in the Human Rights Council of the United Nations. But that will require the U.S. to answer charges that it imprisons people for political reasons, holds them under cruel and inhuman conditions, and that racism pervades its criminal justice system.
A group of Arab activists and human rights organizations have issued a statement about the Israeli-linked group GayMiddleEast.com. This organization was founded in 2003 by Shabi Assaf Gatenio, and has recently appeared in the media after the exposure of the Amina hoax presenting itself as the credible and authentic voice of LGBT Arabs.
Titled Que(e)rying the Israel-linked GayMiddleEast.com: a statement by Arab queers, the statement opens:
As queer Arab activists working on the ground in several countries in the Middle East, our initial disagreements with GayMiddleEast.com were political in nature. But rather than respond to them or engage in dialogue with us, GayMiddleEast.com resorted to playing the victim and shrugging off those concerns.
GayMiddleEast.com’s disingenuous response to what it sees as a “smear campaign” against it not only obfuscates the legitimate reasons many queer Arab activists take issue with its work, but also presents lies so blatant that a simple Google search is enough uncover the truth. It is duplicitous to claim that pointing out GayMiddleEast.com’s extensive ties to Israel is more dangerous than those ties themselves and its lack of transparency about them.
In the statement, which has been endorsed by a growing list of organizations across the Arab world and globally including MidEast Youth, Al-Qaws, Meem, Engender, Khomsa Network and Decolonize Queer, the authors take GayMiddleEast.com to task for four issues: unwelcome and unsolicited intervention; co-optation of Arab voices; pinkwashing Israel; and violations of the Palestinian civil society call for boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS).
They also present compelling evidence that GayMiddleEast.com (GME) has systematically tried to conceal its founding in and extensive ties to Israel and that GME representatives Dan Littauer and Shabi Assaf Gatenio are not being honest about themselves.
GME has been the subject of mounting criticism from Arab and Palestine solidarity activists at least since last year (see #lgbtME: We Do Not Live in Vacuums! and GayMiddleEast.com’s Zionism). Most recently, Kaw at Mideast Youth posted Whose Gay Middle East(.com)? and asked three questions:
- Why are activists not fully informed of GayMiddleEast.com’s Israel connection, so as to make informed choices about whether or not to get involved with the organisation?
- Or better yet, why is the information not made publicly available on the website?
- While GayMiddleEast.com claims to oppose pinkwashing, why have the grassroots campaigns by Palestinian queer activists to counter Israel’s pinkwashing been neither highlighted, nor endorsed?
The people behind GME have tried to evade these questions about their origins, methods and standards and about the identities of their representatives in English-language and Israeli media.
On 19 June, GME responded to what it called a “smear campaign” saying:
- GME is not an Israeli organisation. Nor is it Zionist. It is not owned or run by an Israeli.
- The site’s executive editor is Dan Littauer, a German citizen (with only a German passport) who lives in London. …
- GME’s website was registered in Germany in 2003 by Shabi Gatenio, GME’s Israel Editor on behalf of a number of Arab LGBT activists.
In my own research on GayMiddleEast.com, I found the history of their so-called advocacy very troubling. Using the Internet Archive’s Wayback Machine, I reviewed the content produced by GME from 2003 through 2008. Some of the people currently or previously associated with the site–namely Dan Littauer, Avi Ozeri, and Scott Piro–have a background in the tourism industry and public relations, and until 2009, GME tried to be a tourism resource.
Before 2009, their site had a section about tourism to Arab countries with cruising tips. The site offered up coming out stories that were both implausible and prurient. They noted sodomy law and age of consent information for each country.
Sodomy laws and age of consent have been important indicators of sexual freedom and equality in many countries. In fact, the United States had sodomy laws until 2003 when the Supreme Court ruled that they were unconstitutional. In other countries, they are also a colonial legacy of laws authored by European powers which persisted after independence. With cruising tips, age of consent, sodomy law information and tourism advice, the GME project looks more like orientalist sex tourism rather than human rights advocacy. [...]
Mainstream media role
In light of the activists’ latest statement, it is important to note the role of some prominent media in perpetuating these kind of shadowy organizations who ventriloquize Arabs. The Guardian for example avidly promoted the Amina hoax. After the Electronic Intifada exposed the Amina hoax, The Guardian rushed to feature the hoaxter on their front page, giving him more publicity and oxygen. It then published an article called “The real world of gay girls in Damascus” by a pseudonymous author who credited GME with helping to place it in the media. GME heavily promoted this article through Facebook and Twitter. GME used the Amina hoax to promote themselves as authentic authorities on Arab sexuality, but in fact, GME merely reproduces the main elements of the hoax: anonymous male authors speaking on behalf of unseen female native informants. Foreign Policy also published a version of the article.
While posing as liberatory, GME revels in voyeurism and titiliation about a supposedly sexually repressed orient – classic orientalist themes.
The statement from Arab organizations serves as a powerful antidote.
The corporate media continue to follow the dictates of people in power, ignoring their obligation to report factual information in as unbiased a way as possible. Instead they behave like scribes in a royal court, dutifully repeating the words of the king in hopes of currying favor and gaining access. Their shameless behavior is on view yet again as another president with imperial aspirations tells obvious lies in order to gain support for wars of aggression.
At the urging of the United States government and NATO, the International Criminal Court has piled on its anti-Muammar Qaddafi rhetoric. One prosecutor even claims that Qaddafi is giving his troops Viagra and using rape as a weapon of war. He has done so without presenting any evidence and even worse, the American media are repeating the assertions without investigation of any kind.
When George W. Bush made the case for invading Iraq, he too used rape as a rhetorical weapon of war, claiming that Saddam Hussein had “rape rooms” in his palaces that were used to assault dissidents. In 2003 as in 2011, the claim was reported without evidence.
The service to their masters takes on many forms. If a president lies about his reasons for killing people, the lie is never exposed. Sometimes the media are so eager for the story which won’t upset the powerful, that they will extend the parameters of their falsehoods.
Such was the case with “Amina,” a Syrian blogger and lesbian who wrote critically about the regime of President Assad. The blog “A Gay Girl in Damascus” was followed by incredulous people all over the world, but it turned out that Amina never existed. The blog and Amina were the creations of a heterosexual American man living in Scotland who wanted to hasten the end of Assad’s days in power. When the non-existent Amina was reported missing, an alleged kidnap victim of the Syrian police, even the state department grew alarmed and made inquiries as to her safety.
“The blog and Amina were the creations of a heterosexual American man living in Scotland who wanted to hasten the end of Assad’s days in power.”
The hypocrisy manifested on the part of the United States government is quite stunning. While denying or minimizing the loss of lives caused by its actions in Iraq, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Somalia, Haiti and on the part of any of its allies, the government was willing to use its power to ensure the safety of one person in Syria.
The government does not have a monopoly on these hypocritical expressions of outrage. Private citizens too, are moved to speak and act by a strange set of values. The phony blogger who created Amina knew what he was doing when he created a gay, female persona. Americans and Europeans are convinced of their own moral superiority vis a vis the Muslim world. They rarely say a word about when their governments kill Muslim women with their acts of war. They gasp in horror over the treatment of gay people in some societies, but they know or care little about how their governments’ actions create suffering for all people all over the globe.
We have a media that follows the dictates of government and sensational news items, that is to say sensationalism which proves racist notions of superiority and which don’t create any difficulties for the powerful. The bombing of a university in Tripoli, Libya ought to create a sensation, but that information never makes it onto the front pages.
The media scribes not only pick and choose what they do and don’t think worthy of their attention, but they are also unable to keep very simple facts straight. They are now repeating the Obama administration claim of a significant troop draw down in Afghanistan. The president will reportedly announce a withdrawal of somewhere between 5,000 and 30,000. However, even if he were to withdraw the higher number he would still leave 68,000 troops in Afghanistan, twice the number stationed there when he first took office. Simple arithmetic is yet another criteria that is too much to ask the members of the fourth estate.
Citizens who want to know what is happening in this country and around the world are at a great disadvantage. The old saw that it is unwise to believe everything we read should be modified. When it comes to the corporate media, perhaps we should believe nothing we read. We certainly would be no less knowledgeable of the truth.
Margaret Kimberley’s Freedom Rider column appears weekly in BAR. She maintains a frequently updated blog as well as at http://freedomrider.blogspot.com. Ms. Kimberley lives in New York City, and can be reached via e-Mail at Margaret.Kimberley(at)BlackAgandaReport.com.
It feels like my surroundings are rapidly closing in on me. The metal bars in which I am enclosed are ugly and the ground is littered with trash. Desperate children are trying to sell me gum and candy. Candy is the last thing I want right now; I want to escape. Bodies are pressing up against me as people struggle to make it through the revolving gate that only lets a few through at a time. If I am not aggressive, I will never get through. A teenage boy is getting yelled at by a soldier for some unknown reason, and a father is denied although his wife and children are granted passage. An old man in the car lane is taking out his groceries one by one from his trunk as a young soldier stands inspecting, finger on the trigger. Cars are backed up and people are getting impatient. I am angry.
I must pass through the checkpoint every time I wish to enter Jerusalem from Ramallah, even though east Jerusalem is Palestinian territory. I have to answer the familiar questions such as “What were you doing in the West Bank?” or “Do you have any Palestinian friends?” I hate being forced to lie. Having Palestinian friends should not be looked at as criminal. And I hate that they almost – almost make me feel that I am truly doing something wrong. Most of all, I hate the way the Palestinians are treated, and although I am uncomfortable, chances are I will get through without much problem. Their reality is much different. Any random checkpoint encounter could mean harassment, detainment, or worse. It seems to mostly depend on the mood of the soldier.
I had underestimated the anger and anxiety that I would feel in these scenarios. Some people around me appear visibly upset while others just look bored. Because of the freedom that I have enjoyed my entire life, I refuse to accept this dehumanizing process. As I stand there, I vow to never adjust, to never become desensitized to this. For me, that would signal complicity in the face of the injustice that is occurring: a complete domination of one group of people over another—a betrayal of humanity. Threat levels are determined by the color of your ID card and the language that you speak. I will not thank the soldiers when they return my passport. I will not grant legitimacy to their role by acting like they are doing me a favor. I will not be forced to equate human rights with privilege.
When they ask, I tell the interrogators that I have been in the city of Nablus, visiting Jacob’s Well, which is the biblical site where Jesus is believed to have had encountered a Samaritan woman. This falls in line with my Christian tourism story that most visitors have to use if they are planning on having any contact with Palestinians. Although with suspicious looks, I am allowed to pass through the gates with the others like herded animals.
When you witness the policies that are in place and the apartheid system that is occurring, it is hard to stay outside the cycle of hatred. It is hard to see the ‘other’, the one who is enforcing the rules, as human—they become robots, trapped inside a system that teaches you to follow orders, not to ask questions. It denies all natural laws of humanity, so the challenge then becomes to stay human in an inhuman situation. People are not meant to be kept in cages, both figuratively and literally, and race and religion should not be prioritized. The ironies are many in this ‘Holy Land’.
But how do I communicate to others what I have seen and felt when most people choose the comfort of ignorance over awareness in our unjust world? If words could accurately describe this oppression, I do not believe it would be allowed to continue unchecked. The gap between words and lived experience is vast, and those who may actually have the power to change things may never understand the reality—the reality of the nightmare that is occupation. It was only through my experience in this region that I was ultimately changed. It was from looking it in the eye, from feeling powerless, from experiencing a fear that the unexpected could happen at any given moment.
In Palestine, where most days I feel useless rather than useful, I still somehow feel that I have to be here no matter how outside of my comfort zone it lies. I cannot continue to be complicit or neutral, because I have seen what that means in this conflict and how collective apathy has embarrassingly allowed the occupation of Palestine to continue for 44 years. I am standing on a bridge between two worlds—one in which the powerful are silent, and the other in which the powerless are screaming, yet ignored. It is through this paradox that I am seeking answers. And some degree of hope.
Meg Walsh is a Writer for the Media and Information Department at the Palestinian Initiative for the Promotion of Global Dialogue and Democracy (MIFTAH). She can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Ralia Saleh Yusuf Mahmoud Sharad sits on the rubble of her demolished home.
[MaanImages/Hilary Minch, EAPPI]
JERICHO — “The big soldier wouldn’t speak to me. He just said ‘This is my job, sit down and shut up’,” the newly homeless Ralia Darraghmeh, a diabetes sufferer in her sixties said of the one of the crew who had come to demolish her home Tuesday morning.
She was sitting alone, crying in Khirbet Yarza, a tiny Bedouin hamlet, as her tin home was taken down by order of Israel’s Civil Administration, which governs planning and permit issuing in the 60 percent of the West Bank categorized as Area C under the 1993 Oslo Accords.
According to an observer from the Ecumenical Accompaniment Program in Palestine and Israel, 30 people, including 8 children were affected by the demolitions.
The Darraghmeh family represent almost all of the residents of the hamlet. The eldest son of the group had planned to get married in July, but his brother said the goods and savings that would have supported the marriage were buried underneath the debris of their home.
“I really don’t care about my suffering, but what about the children?” asked another of the elder sons in the family as he surveyed the damage.
Israeli forces demolish homes in Khirbet Yarza. [MaanImages/Patricia Mercer, EAPPI]
With their belongings strewn in the rubble, the men, women and children of the hamlet began gathering up their goods, salvaging what was possible, and trying to decide where to go.
The family said they were warned by the army that the soldiers would return if the family remained in the area or received humanitarian assistance.
According to a report from the Israeli human rights group B’Tselem, home demolitions in the first six months of 2011 displaced 706 individuals, including 341 minors.
With reporting from Hilary Minch, an observer with EAPPI.
The technology firm, Apple have removed an application called “The Third Palestinian Intifada” for purchase for Mac, and iPhone users.
The action was taken after Yuli-Yoel Edelstein, Israeli Minister for Public Affairs and Immigrant Absorption, mailed a letter to the Apple Corporation requesting the “immediate removal” of the application.
On Tuesday, Mac officials had decided to keep the app running despite Israeli pressures to take it down. However, CNN reported today that Mac corporations have removed the application for future purchase.
Edelstein wrote that the app was “anti-Israel and anti-Zionist” and calls for an immediate Palestinian uprising against the state of Israel.
The Arabic language app was developed in Dubai to update users on upcoming Palestinian protests and news articles critical of the Israeli regime.
“The Third Palestinian Intifada” was released June 15 and was free for download from App Store until Wednesday, June 22, 2011.
The app was removed for “being offensive to large groups of people,” an Apple spokesman told Haaretz.
In May, United States attorney Larry Klayman sued Mark Zuckerburg, founder of Facebook, for over one billion dollars for not removing the Facebook group “The Third Palestinian Intifada” soon enough. [The page had a fan-base of over 300,000]