Search results for 'refugees'

The Movements of Immigrants, Black Lives, Refugees and the Indigenous Talk About the Centrality of Palestine

25 Mar
DSC_0111

From Left to Right: Amani Al-Hindi Barakat, Alfredo Gama, Nana Gyamfi, Micahel Letwin, Lydia Ponce, Ameena Mirza Qazi, Garik Ruiz in conversation, Wednesday, March 22; Photo by Barry Saks 

To a standing-room-only crowd of about 75 people, a discussion: “From Palestine to Mexico, All the Walls Have Got to Go” was held on Wednesday, March 22, at 6101 Wilshire Blvd., formerly Johnie’s with the theme, “grassroots movements for human liberation increasingly recognize #Palestinian liberation as a central component of intersectionality (sic),” according the Facebook page of the event.

Also according to the same Facebook page, the event was sponsored by Al-Awda the Palestine Right to Return Coalition, American Indian Movement Southern California, California for Progress, HP Boycott Campaign-Los Angeles, Idle No More L.A., Jews for Palestinian Right of Return, Jewish Voice for Peace-L.A., Labor for Standing Rock, LA4Palestine, and March and Rally Los Angeles.

DSC_0039

Karen Pomer introducing the panel, March 22; Photo by Barry Saks

Karen Pomer, who was the lead event organizer, also according the Facebook page, and who is also with Labor for Standing Rock, said, “If we are missing a few people tonight, it’s because we have hundreds of people that we helped organize along with many other groups outside the L.A. County Sheriff’s Office tonight fighting back against the raids and again protecting the state of California from ICE (U.S. Department of Homeland Security Immigration and Customs Enforcement).

To read the Facebook page, which announced the discussion, click here.

DSC_0081

Garik Ruiz, March 22; Photo by Barry Saks

Pomer introduced Garik Ruiz.  Ruiz said he’s the North America liaison for the Palestinian BDS Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions) National Committee (BNC).  Thus, he works with organizations fighting for human rights for Palestinians against the Israeli state.  Ruiz reported last week the U.N. Economic and Social Commission for Western Asia released a report for the first time named Israel as “creating a system of apartheid” and asked governments to respond to the BDS campaigns.  Because of pressure from the U.S. and Israel, the U.N. removed the report.  In response, the director resigned rather than withdraw the report.  He also reported the Israeli state had detained prominent Palestinian human rights defender Omar Barghouti placed him under “intense interrogation” to intimidate him and the BDS movement.  Click here to read the the full statement on Barghouti by BNC.

Ruiz then introduced the panelists: Amani Al-Hindi Barakat, who was born in Kuwait and is the National Chairwoman of Al-Awda, the Palestine Right of Return Coalition; Alfredo Gama, who is a member of the Papalotl Brown Berets and an organizer of the recent immigration protests; Nana Gyamfi, who is a member and co-founder of Justice Warriors 4 Black Lives, a network of attorneys and non-attorneys providing legal support for the Movement for Black Lives, including BLMLA; Michael Letwin, who is a New York City public defender, former president of the Association of Legal Aid Attorneys (United Auto Workers Local 2325) and Labor for Standing Rock; Lydia Ponce, who is an organizer with the American Indian Movement and Idle No More of Southern California and an organizer of the No Dakota Access Pipeline protests in Los Angeles; and Ameena Mirza Qazi, who is the Executive Director of the L.A. chapter of the National Lawyers Guild, civil rights attorney who has worked on free speech, social and economic justice, discrimination and due process issues.

DSC_0016

Amani Al-Hindi Barakat, March 22; Photo by Barry Saks

Barakat characterized herself as a Palestinian-American immigrant and refugee.  She said, “Trump’s win … has been very difficult and exhausting for many of us…. Aside from him (President Trump) bringing us together today, we’re only two months into his administration and we’re already seeing a change in the American landscape….Tens of thousands of citizens across the country have stormed congressional offices and town hall meetings.…We can see today policy flourishing in the larger institutional structure that serve only select few in the American society.  Whether you’re Black, Latino, Native American, LGBQ (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual or Queer) or a Muslim, the system excludes you equally….As a Palestinian, I can say with certainty that injustices we face are the same ones our Black, Latino and Native American brothers and sisters have faced for far too long.”

AlfredoGama

Alfredo Gama, March 22; Photo by Barry Saks

Next was Gama.  He said when he was first asked to speak he was reminded of the Facebook picture, which said, “From Ayotzinapa to Ferguson to Palestine.”  He then explained that Ayotzinapa is “where 43 students went missing, to Ferguson, where Michael Brown was murdered right to Palestine, where … indigenous Palestinians are also being murdered…. We have to understand we are still a colonized people…. The law is not about justice but power…. We are illegal because we are profitable…. We are saying we are here and we are here to stay.”

DSC_0060

Nana Gyamfi, March 22; Photo by Barry Saks

Gyamfi followed Gama.  She almost immediately said, “It is clear that everyone that’s here is someone who understands that how this system is constructed is completely wrong, that it needs to be destroyed and that we need to build a new world.”  She pointed out the Platform for the Movement for Black Lives in 2016 included support for BDS and Palestinian autonomy because Pan-Africanism and the struggle of the Palestinians are a result of colonialism.  At the end, she said, “We are talking about the onslaught on the freedom, the liberation, the autonomy of indigenous populations and we will win together.”

MichaelLetwin

Michael Letwin, March 22; Photo by Barry Saks

Letwin followed Gyamfi.  He said the struggle around Palestine is “a beating heart” of intersectionality, which puts Palestine in the center.  Letwin rhetorically asked what the Trump administration means for the movements?  He said while the Trump era is troubling and worrisome, the response, the resistance to it is hopeful.  He pointed out that the policies of the Trump administration that the grassroots movements are responding to are the policies that were part of the Obama administration and all the administrations before it.  Letwin’s last point was that different struggles must include those struggles that have been most marginalized, like the struggles of Standing Rock, Black Lives Matter, and Palestine.

DSC_0104

Lydia Ponce, March 22; Photo by Barry Saks

Ponce immediately reminded the audience they were on the land of the Tonga people.  She said when we come to these kinds of gatherings and meetings, “we recognize that we are all healing from our historical trauma and that the value of coming together like this is to do it more often.”  Ponce said activists “need to step out of their comfort zone and “just show up” even when it “may not be your thing.”  She added, “For solutions tonight, … is to accept the idea the economic elite has declared war on all of us and has signed a death certificate for earth mother.”

DSC_0073

Ameena Mirza Qazi, March 22; Photo by Barry Saks

Last to speak on the round was Qazi.  She wasted no words.  She described briefly that the question of Palestine was important to the Middle East South Asian Committee, which is part of the International Committee of the National Lawyers Guild.  She spoke of the Arabic concept of “ummah,” which means community, but also “transcends space and time” and the need to return to that concept that was used before 9/11.  She said, “The United States plays the most active role in oppression of foreign peoples with the suppression of Palestinian rights.”

Ruiz posed some questions to the panel.  First, besides just showing up, are there ways to develop what Ruiz called, “joint struggle.”  Barakat said it was important to learn about each other’s struggles and then participate.  Gama said it was important “to show up but to shut up.”  He said for himself, while he can learn about the Palestinian struggle and stand in solidarity with it, he understood the Palestinians must lead their own struggle.  Gyamfi said issues need to be identified that “we have the same opposing force” and that we understand that we are oppressed and harmed in different ways.  Letwin said one area for potential struggle is to look at “class” and when attempts are made to exclude folks, we need to figure out a way to participate without being silenced, including our own contingents.  Ponce echoed Gama and ended her thoughts with “honor the differences but find the similarities.”  Qazi said it was important to create safe spaces for all of us.  She used a recent example, where it was necessary for the NLG had to boycott a meeting because the Anti-Defamation League (According to the Electronic Intifada, the ADL had been advising universities how to isolate the BDS movement.  Click here to read the Electronic Intifada article.), was participating.  To educate those at the meeting, the NLG sent a letter explaining its decision.

Ruiz posed a second question: what does it mean for us to be supporting Palestinian indigenous resistance, when we are doing that work here on indigenous land and how can we better shape our campaigns and messaging?  Ponce said it was divestment and the need to support the United Nations’ Declaration of Rights for the Indigenous People.

Ruiz posed a third question: how can the Palestine Solidarity Movement in the U.S. do more to support the Movement for Black Lives?  Gyamfi said one way is “to address the anti-blackness within in the Palestinian population.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

California Democratic Party Debates Palestine, Israel; Continues to Call for a “Two-State Solution,” Israel as “Democratic Jewish State”

6 Jan

The California Democratic Party finished its three-day convention in Long Beach on Sunday, Nov. 17 of 2019, which included endorsing candidates and adopting a platform only after an impassioned floor debate on a platform amendment regarding Israel and Palestine.

A convention rule states if an amendment garners at least 300 signatures, it qualifies for a debate on the convention floor. 

The amendment failed on the convention floor, after a six-minute debate with both sides getting equal time before the vote.  The amendment stated the party’s support for “a solution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict negotiated by the parties that guarantees equality, security and democracy for all, no matter what the final settlement regarding states and borders.”  It also stated the party’s opposition to “any unilateral annexation of territory” and the party’s support for “right of all those who were forced from their homes to return to their homelands and receive compensation for their losses.”

Delegate David Mandel (center) confers with his colleagues, on Friday, Nov. 15, 2019, where the Platform Committee of the California Democratic Party had met and rejected the amendment on Israel and Palestine, which on Sunday came to the convention floor; photo by Barry Saks

The 2020 platform on Israel and Palestine, in part, continues to call Israel a “democratic Jewish state” and call for a “two-state solution,” meaning a separate state for Jews and a separate state for Palestinians.

Delegates David Mandel and Yassar Dahbour argued on the convention floor for the amendment.  Mandel, who wrote the amendment, said as an Israeli he fought against the occupation for ten years, while witnessing the acceleration of illegal settlements.  He added, “Our platform should not rule out any solution, but it should not attempt to dictate how many states or the nature of those states.  Instead, it should affirm the values of equality, human rights and international law which must be the foundation of any just peace.  Sadly, however, the democratic values we espouse…too often evaporate when it comes to the Palestinians.”

On Friday, Mandel acknowledged that a compromise was reached in which anti-BDS (Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions of Israel) language was removed from the platform.

Dahbour told his family’s history of forced migration in 1948 from Israel, first to a refugee camp in Lebanon, then to Syria.  He added because of the civil war in Syria, his extended family is spread among 16 countries on three continents.  In closing, Dahbour said, “When we defend the rights of our Jewish brother(s) and sisters against anti-Semitism, we (should) also stand by the Palestinians to end their oppression and occupation…Please vote yes…to support my right to exist.”

California State 43rd District Assemblywoman Laura Friedman argued against the amendment. The Assemblywoman said she sits on the board of the legislative progressive caucus.  Friedman, like Dahbour, told the audience some of her family’s history.  The Assemblywoman said she comes from a family with a long history progressive Jewish activism supporting civil and human rights.  She said, “My grandfather came to this country as a refugee between the wars, fleeing the deadly pogrom in Poland…His family, who stayed in Poland, were decimated during the Holocaust, with only about 5 percent of them surviving.  When they tried to flee, they were rejected from every nation on earth.  It wasn’t until the other countries of the world decided to send Jewish refugees to Israel did he have a place to call home.”  Friedman added she told her family’s story to explain “why the existence of the state of Israel is so important to so many American Jews.”  At the end, she said the amendment makes “Jews feel attacked and marginalized in the Democratic Party.”

California State District 11 Senator Scott Weiner also spoke against the amendment.  Weiner said, “This amendment….eliminates the two-state solution of Israel and Palestine co-existing and it advocates for a one-state solution of Palestine.  The State Senator, echoing Friedman, reminded the delegates six million Jews were exterminated during the Jewish holocaust.

California State District 11 Senator Scott Weiner, on Saturday, Nov. 16, 2019, speaks at rally, organized by Progressive Zionists of California called “Facing Anti-Semitism, a Solidarity Rally” in a public space in front of the Long Beach Convention Center.

Before Sunday’s floor debate, Lisa Armony––Director of the Rose Project of the Jewish Federation and Family Services, Orange County––was passing out a flyer advocating against the amendment.  Armony said, “(F)undamentally at its core the BDS movement is anti-Semitic…because BDS calls for the elimination of the state of Israel.”

No verbiage on  the of the website of the BDS movement calls for the elimination of Israel.  However, it does characterize Israel as “a settler-colonial state” and makes an analogy with the apartheid of South Africa.  It does urge “nonviolent pressure on Israel until it complies with international law by meeting the three demands.”  The first is “(e)nding its occupation and colonization of all Arab lands and dismantling the Wall (sic).”  The second is “(r)ecognizing the fundamental rights of the Arab-Palestinian citizens of Israel to full equality.” And, the third is “(r)especting, protecting and promoting the rights of Palestinian refugees to return to their homes and properties as stipulated in UN Resolution 194.”

The day before, Progressive Zionists of California held a rally, called “Facing Anti-Semitism, a Solidarity Rally” outside in a public space in front of the convention center.

Mathew Finkelstein, who emceed, near the beginning of the rally, told the audience the circumstances that prompted him, Susan George and others to form PZC within the California Democratic Party.  Finkelstein said, “(In) 2017,….we attended the Progressive Caucus Rally…at the California Democratic Party and for a half an hour, the speakers spoke about why Israel is an evil, racist and apartheid state worthy of being singled out by the BDS movement as opposed to any other country on the planet.  As a Jewish person, I felt that my organic identity was not welcomed in many progressive spaces here in the California Democratic Party…We have since decided to organize with a group of our friends a truly progressive response to the problem of leftist anti-Semitism, one that is both progressive and Zionist.”    

The elected officials, who spoke at the rally were ­Assemblyman Jesse Gabriel, California State Senator Scott Weiner, Assemblywoman Rebecca Baur-Kahan and Los Angeles City Controller Ron Galperin­.

Hene Kelly, Region 6 Director of the California Democratic Party, holds her pro-Israel sign prior to the vote on the amendment on Sunday, Nov. 17, 2019

Long Beach Residents Rally in Solidarity with Central-American Immigrants at US-Mexican Border

30 Nov

 

DSC_0005

Jonathan Solorzano of the Long Beach Immigrant Rights Coalition emcees, Thursday, Nov. 29, the rally in solidarity with Central-American Immigrants at the US-Mexican border; photo by Barry Saks.

While the Long Beach rally in solidarity with the caravan of Central-American immigrants at the United States-Mexican border, was canceled because of wind and rain, about 40 people, on Thursday, Nov. 29, braved the weather at Harvey Milk Promenade Park, 185 E. Third St. to show their solidarity with the migrants and to collect donations for them.

According to the press release issued before the rally, the organizers for the rally were the Long Beach Immigrant Rights Coalition and other community groups.

Jonathan Solorzano, the lead organizer for the LBIRC, emceed.  Solorzano began the rally with the chant: “When immigrants are under attack, what’ll we do?  We’ll stand up and fight back.”  He apologized for the sudden cancelation of the rally and said, however, a short program would follow.  He said, “There was a blatant human rights violation that happened on Sunday, in which the Mexican police attacked the Central-American caravan….This administration (U.S.) has time and time again shown that immigrants south of the border are not welcomed.”

Solorzano introduced the 2nd District Councilwoman Jeanine Pearce.  Pearce said, “I don’t want to target one administration (over another)….We as America has to do right by citizens of the world…. Having a border is one thing.  Having a disagreement on how we go through a process of making sure that people that are seeking asylum, that refugees have a safe place is another thing.  Gassing people at the border is completely unacceptable.”

 

 

Gaby Hernandez, the program manager for the LBIRC, said donations may be delivered to the LBIRC office at 525 E. 7th St., Long Beach until Friday, Nov. 30.

In the same press release, Hernandez said, “Long Beach is against the human rights violations happening at the southern border.  We stand in solidarity with refugees because seeking asylum is their human right.”  “Whether white, black, or brown, we want to join together across our differences and show our support for the refugee community by speaking out on these injustices and collecting essential donations for people in need.”

DSC_0006

Donations collected, Thursday, Nov. 29, at solidarity rally with Central-American immigrants at US-Mexican border; photo by Barry Saks

 

 

Friends of Sabeel of Los Angeles and Orange Counties to Host Educational on Palestine and Israel

7 Nov

Friends of Sabeel of Los Angeles and Orange counties will host an educational conference, which it titled, “No Way to Treat a Palestinian: Gaza, UNRWA (United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East) and Jerusalem,” on Saturday, Nov. 17, from 8:30 a.m. to 1 p.m., at Christ Lutheran Church, 6500 Stearns St., Long Beach, which will feature Donna Baranski-Walker, who is the founder and executive director of the Rebuilding Alliance, a nonprofit organization that helps Palestinian villages build affordable homes and schools.

Barranski-Walker, who was awarded the Medal of Gratitude at Poland’s Gdansk Shipyard in 2010 for her work nearly 30 years before in support of Solidarity, the independent trade union, will speak on the difficulties of working in Gaza.

To visit the Rebuilding Alliance website, click here.

Besides Barranski-Walker speaking, a panel will focus its discussion on Jerusalem.

According to a flyer distributed online before the conference: the conference costs $20, cash at the door; scholarships are available; and inquiries may be sent by email to NW2TAP@gmail.com.

The same flyer listed the conference endorsers as Al-Awda: The Palestine Right of Return Coalition, Episcopal Peace Fellowship/PIN-LA (Palestine-Israel Network), Jewish Voice for Peace, Kairos (propitious moment for action) USA, LA Jews for Peace, ELCA (Evangelical Lutheran Church in America) SW (Southwest California) Synod Middle East Task Force, PAWA-SC: Palestinian American Women’s Association of Southern California, People for Palestinian-Israeli Justice, Presbyterian Synod JPIC (Justice, Peace and Integrity of Creation Committee) and the United Methodist Holy Land Task Force.

To view the flyer, click here.

In emails before the conference, Tony Litwinko, who characterized himself as a member of the conference organizing committee, said, “We in Friends of Sabeel LA and Orange County are very concerned about the decision of the Trump administration to move the American Embassy to Jerusalem, but more importantly, in its decision to stop supporting UNRWA and to radically cut support to the Palestinian Authority, impacting educational and health facilities in East Jerusalem and the occupied territories, (w)e offer this conference for the general public in order to educate them about the deep humanitarian crisis in Gaza and the continuing unjust annexation and manipulation of land in the Jerusalem area. We especially welcome people who have recently begun to understand the importance of the struggle for justice in Palestine.”

According to the Friends of Sabeel North America website, FOSNA “supports Sabeel, an ecumenical liberation theology movement founded by Palestinian Christians in the Holy Land. We share Sabeel’s mission to amplify the voice of Palestinian Christians and work with peace builders of all faiths who stand with the oppressed and promote a just peace in Palestine and Israel. FOSNA challenges distortions of the Bible and theologies that lead to racism, including anti-Semitism and Islamophobia, and condemns all acts of violence, whether committed by states, individuals, or groups. We organize and participate in events and nonviolent advocacy campaigns that advance peace and justice for both Palestinians and Israelis.”

To visit the FOSNA website, click here.

He may be reached at barry@barrysaks.com.

Hundreds March Against Federal Policies of Separating Immigrant Families and for a ‘Clean’ Long Beach Values Act

3 Jul

DSC_0226

June 30, Long Beach; photo by Barry Saks

More than 1,000 people rallied and marched, on Saturday, June 30, from Caesar Chavez Park to the Glenn M. Anderson Federal Building, which houses offices of the U.S.  Immigration and Customs Enforcement, 501 W. Ocean Blvd., to protest the Trump Administration’s policy of separating immigrant children from their families and to protest locally the exceptions in the Long Beach Values Act, which allows the Long Beach Police Department to turn over previously convicted immigrants to the ICE.

DSC_0187

Nikole Cababa, from the Filipino Migrant Center, emcees pro-immigrant protest, June 30 in Long Beach; photo by Barry Saks

Nikole Cababa, who identified herself as a community organizer for the Filipino Migrant Center, emceed.  In her opening remarks, Cababa said, “We are here because families are being torn apart.  We are here because children, as young as three-years old are being forced to defend themselves in deportation hearings….We are here because parents are left with no choice but to flee their homelands to escape violence and poverty, and yet, they face detention and isolation away from their loved ones.  We are here because there are corporations making humongous profits, imprisoning migrants, refugees, black-and-brown communities and the poor every single day. And we are here to demand this city and all cities across this country to step up to do more for to protect migrants and refugees, and make this city a sanctuary for all.”  She reminded the audience President Obama had deported more than 2.5 million people and argued the migration patterns today, which she called, “forced migration” are a result of U.S. foreign policy toward Central America.  She ended with reiterating the need for the Long Beach City Council to pass a “clean” (meaning without exception to prior criminal convictions) Long Beach Values Act.

DSC_0180

Rev. Cue Jn-Marie speaks at protest at Caesar Chavez Park in Long Beach, June 30; photo by Barry Saks

Cababa introduced Rev. Cue Jn-Marie, which according to the Row Church website is “a former Virgin Records rapper, turned evangelist and activist.”  The Reverend, who said he lived in Long Beach, told the crowd he had just come back from Washington D.C., where he had participated in the Poor People’s Campaign.  He reminded the crowd the original Poor People’s Campaign was started by the Rev. Martin Luther King just before he was assassinated.  The Reverend ended by leading the crowd to the chant: Abolish ICE.

After the Reverend, Alan Lowenthal, the representative from the 47th Congressional District spoke.

 

 

 

The Democratic congressman was the only local elected official to speak.

No one from the Long Beach City Council, including the Mayor, responded to a request for comment for this story.

Jedi Jimenez speaks, Saturday, June 30, to pro-immigration protesters in Caesar Chavez Park, Long Beach; photo by Barry Saks

Jedi Jimenez speaks, Saturday, June 30, to pro-immigration protesters in Caesar Chavez Park, Long Beach; photo by Barry Saks

Another speaker was Jedi Jimenez, who said he is the chairperson of Anakbayan Long Beach.  According to the Anakbayan-USA website, Anakbayan believes “that Philippine society today is not truly free (sic) nor democratic. It is under the control of U.S imperialism, along with local landlords, big capitalists, and corrupt gov’t (sic) officials.” Jimenez said, “This country (U.S.) has a long history of settling indigenous children to boarding schools, locking away black and brown youth for life sentences. Six thousand Filipinos are forced to leave their homes every single day…to go abroad.”  Jimenez also called for abolishing ICE.

Lian Cheun speaks on Saturday, June 30, to pro-immgration protesters in Caesar Chavez Park, Long Beach; photo by Barry Saks

Lian Cheun speaks on Saturday, June 30, to pro-immgration protesters in Caesar Chavez Park, Long Beach; photo by Barry Saks

Lian Cheun, who is the Executive Director of Khymer Girls in Action, spoke after Jimenez.  The KGA website characterizes itself as “a community-based organization whose mission is to build a progressive and sustainable Long Beach community that works for gender, racial and economic justice led by Southeast Asian young women.”  Cheun, according to the same website, was “(i)n 2014…appointed to President Obama’s Advisory Commission on Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders,” said, “Long Beach has the largest Cambodian population outside of Cambodia and we came to this country as refugees…Our country (U.S.) has criminalized a lot of acts of survival, a lot acts of poverty in our community….Long Beach City Council finally approved what we know now as the Long Beach Values Act.

“It is a policy that intended to limit our city’s collaboration with ICE and end a role in the deportation of Long Beach residents….However, the city council included certain carve-outs which are loopholes that exclude some immigrants from these protections based off of their past history with the justice system.  These carve-outs mean if an immigrant has one of many particular convictions, city employees will be allowed to turn them over to ICE….There is a…claim that only hardened criminals are being deported and that’s untrue…because we have had folks who have been deported for very minor infractions.”

Cheun also claimed the carve-outs “disproportionally hurt the Cambodian community in Long Beach” and cited ICE statistics that 1,900 Cambodians in the U.S. have deportation orders and more than 1,400 are a result of the carve-outs.
After Cheun spoke, the protesters marched from the park to the Glenn M. Anderson Federal Building, where the protest ended.

 

 

One protester was Jillissa Reuteler.  Reuteler, who said she was from Minnesota and was in Long Beach to go on a cruise, said she decided to go to the protest because one was being planned where she was from.  Echoing what was on her tee-shirt, she said, “Abolish ICE.”

Another protester was Barbara Applerose, who said she has an interior-design business in La Habra.  The separation of children from their parents was personal for Applerose.  When she began to speak, she choked up and began to cry.  In a few short moments, her crying turned to anger.  Applerose said the cries of children being taken from their parents reminded her of when her mother left her once for 10 days.  She said, “I think this (separation of immigrant children from their parents) is so wrong….It makes me sick.  It makes me want to throw up. I don’t understand how our country could allow this to happen.”  Applerose added she thought criminal charges should be filed against President Donald Trump, Attorney General Jeff Sessions and Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen.

 

 

Khaled Bakrawi’s Legacy Continues: Refugee Resource Center Opens

7 Jun

Some months back while my wife and I were traveling, I received an email from the Palestinian Youth Movement, which announced the opening of the Khaled Bakrawi Center in El Cajon, California.  Because we were traveling where we only had at best unreliable access to the internet, I did not read the email until much later after getting home.  While it’s been more than four months since the center’s opening, I’m compelled to write about it.

The Khaled Bakrawi Center, according to the PYM (US) website, “was created for… serving immigrant and refugee youth by teaching various life skills, such as English language, and computer training…. (The) trauma informed services and culturally relevant programs generate a sense of collective healing and community power meant to minimize senses of alienation and loss which often accompanies war trauma and the struggles of exile for these children and youth. There is significance in opening a center catered to immigrant and refugee youth in El Cajon. Since the 1990s, this city, sometimes called ‘Little Baghdad,’ has been a hub for refugees, specifically Iraqi refugees fleeing dictatorship, sanctions, and imperialist wars.”

To read the PYM statement on the opening of the center, click here.

However, what I was most interested was to understand who Khaled Bakrawi was and how he died.  To that end what follows is my attempt at answering those two questions.

Much of Budour Youssef Hassan’s Feb. 18, 2015 piece “Syria’s disappeared Palestinians,” for the Electronic Intifada, is devoted to Khaled Bakrawi.

Hassan said Bakrawi was a prominent activist and co-founder of the Jafra Association for Aid and Development, which works to improve conditions in Palestinian refugee camps in Syria, and as “(a) refugee from Lubya (During the 1948 Arab-Israeli War, the Israelis destroyed the town and its population was removed.), Bakrawi was active around Palestinian refugee rights well before the (Syrian Arab Spring) uprising began and was shot by Israeli occupation forces in June 2011 during the Naksa Day march to the occupied Syrian Golan Heights.  But after…displaced Syrians sought refuge in Yarmouk, he directed his efforts towards organizing humanitarian aid to them.”

Hassan, who is identified as an anarchist in the same story, also said, from interviews of Bakrawi’s friends, that Syrian security forces arrested Bakrawi in January 2013 and his family did not learn of his death until September.

To read Hassan’s story, click here, click here.

In a Zaman al-Wasl news story, “Khaled Bakrawi: Activist of Unforgettable Chivalry” of Feb. 22, 2015 by Faris al-Rfai with translation by Yusra Ahmed, al-Rfai quotes artist and activist Mohamed Zaghmout from his documentary, “Words about Khaled Bakrawi.” Zaghmout said, ‘Khalid -the camp- (sic) as his friends used to name him was an icon of aid and relief work inside Palestinian camps all over Syria, he participated in funerals, educated youth by (sic) many lectures and supported displaced children.’

To read the news story by Faris al-Rfai in Zaman al-Wasl, click here.  According to the Zaman al-Wasl news website, Fathi Bayoud founded Zaman al-Wasl in Homs, Syria in 2005 and it is “Syria’s leading news site delivering fast, in-depth coverage of the events shaping the war-torn country.”

Khaled Bakrawi Exhibit from the SYRIAN TORTURE VICTIMS Exhibition in Copenhagen, Denmark. Photo by Masih Sadat/The Turban Times

The 88-page study, “Palestinians of Syria: Bloody Diary and Unheard Screaming,” by the Action Group for Palestinians in Syria and the Palestinian Return Centre-London, claims Bakrawi was identified as being tortured through leaked photos.  According to the AGPS website, AGPS is “a London-based human rights watchdog that monitors the situation of Palestinian refugees in war-torn Syria” and that “AGPS material is purely fact-based and rooted in real data compiled by a team of professional journalist, on-the-spot reporters, news correspondents, veterans and local activists.”  According to the PRC website, the PRC “is an independent consultancy focusing on the historical, political and legal aspects of Palestinian Refugees (sic).”

To read the study, click here.

According to the PYM announcement of the opening of the center, Bakrawi was 24 when he died.

 

 

Protest Outside Los Angeles Jewish Federation Results in 4 Arrests

13 Apr

 

 

 

 

 

About 40 people, mostly young Jews and their supporters, stood outside the Los Angeles office of the Jewish Federation of North America, on Wednesday, April 11, resulting in four arrests, to protest the deaths of 31 Palestinians and more than 1,000 Palestinians injured by the Israeli Defense Forces, and to demand JFNA issue a statement condemning the occupation and the Israeli violence during Palestinian border protests, dubbed the Great Return March.

The protest was organized by IfNotNowLA, which according to its website, is “(o)rganizing in Los Angeles to end the American Jewish community’s support for the occupation and to gain freedom and dignity for all Israelis and Palestinians.”

David Pocarfly, 27, a Los Angeles resident and a local IfNotNow leader, said nationally the organization has trained almost 1,700 people in organizing in about 15 cities. Pocarfly, who is a University of Southern California graduate student, estimated locally about 120 people have been trained with about 20 to 30 activists, who come regularly to events and meetings. He added the organization’s intent is to try to recruit people who are troubled by the occupation and therefore it welcomes people regardless of their other positions, such as support BDS (Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions) or opposition to BDS, or for a one or two-state solution.

David Pocarfly

David Pocarfly is a IfNotNowLA leader. He is now a graduate student at the University of Southern California; photo by Barry Saks

 

Before the protest, a contingent of about 15 people marched from the Los Angeles County Museum of Art to the JFNA office, which is about .7 miles. The marchers did not chant and among the marchers, only one or two had protest signs.

At the office, five members of IfNotNowLA held a banner and blocked the entrance to the office. Soon after the protest began at the office, at the same time the Mourner’s Kaddish, which is a Jewish prayer of mourning, was recited, the names of the 31 killed Palestinians were read.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Later, volunteers taped each name of the 31 Palestinians killed on both sides of the entrance to the office.

 

 

 

 

Near the end of the protest, the emcee asked if anyone from the audience wished to speak. Rick Chertoff spoke about his journey toward opposing the Israeli occupation of Palestine.

 

 

 

 

 

At the end of the program, four of five protesters were arrested and taken to the Wilshire Community Police Station. The fifth chose not to be arrested by removing herself from the office entrance and walking to the public sidewalk, a few feet away.

 

 

 

The Jewish Federation did not respond to a request for comment. The website of the Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles says, the mission is “(b)ased on Jewish values, The (sic) Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles convenes and leads the community and leverages its resources to assure the continuity of the Jewish people, support a secure State of Israel, care for Jews in need here and abroad, and mobilize on issues of concern to the local community, all with our local, national, and international partners.”

The Facebook page of the Great Return March says, “The Palestinian refugees issue is at the core of The Palestinian refugees issue is the core of the Palestinian cause. It is the issue of the expulsion of a nation from its original land 70 years ago using terrorism, to be replaced by a nation who denies the existence of the expelled indigenous nation….Hundreds of thousands of Palestinians were expelled from their homes and forced to leave their properties to become refugees in various surrounding Arab countries and around the world. A new foreign entity was established on the ruins of their societies and homeland known as ‘Israel’ (sic).”

According to the New York Times the Great Return March was “mostly peaceful.”

Barry Saks is an Ashkenazi Jew, an atheist and a member of Jewish Voice for Peace.

DSC_0021

Photo by Barry Saks

 

Marshall Blesofsky on Military Recruiters in Long Beach, Zach Madeiros on Syria

1 Jun

DSC_0010

The audience waits for the program to start, Saturday, May 13, at Hellada Gallery; Photo by Barry Saks

In the small backroom of the Hellada Gallery, 117 Linden Ave., on Saturday, May 13, Marshall Bleskofsky spoke on the Recruit Awareness Project in Long Beach and Zach Medeiros spoke on Syria to about 20 people.

According to an email sent before the event, this was to be the first of a speakers’ series the Long Beach Area Peace Network would sponsor.

DSC_0016

Videographer Marlene Alvarado as emcee, Saturday, May 13, introducing Marshall Blesofsky; Photo by Barry Saks

With videographer Marlene Alvarado emceeing, the program consisted of a short video Alvarado produced, where Blesofsky spoke at a local solidarity march and rally at the Long Beach Islamic Center, which was earlier threatened; followed with Blesfosky speaking and ending with a photographic presentation of Syria with Medieros speaking.

DSC_0008

Marshall Blesofsky, on Saturday, May 13, Speaking on Military Recruitment in Long Beach; Photo by Barry Saks

Blesofsky said RAP is “to help students make informed choices about (joining) the military.”  He said when the military recruits someone, a contract is signed, in which language exists allowing the military to change the contract, but of course, no such language exists for the recruit.

Blesofsky pointed out, while cities like San Diego and Los Angeles have policies regarding the military recruiters in the high schools, Long Beach has none, essentially giving recruiters full access.  He added, “They (recruiters) can hang out (and) they go to lunch with the students….They get to know the kids, make relationships with the kids or the students and also recruit them.”

DSC_0036

Zach Medeiros, Saturday, May 13, Speaking on Syria; Photo by Barry Saks

Medeiros first provided a summary of the foundations of modern Syria, followed by the non-military aspects of the Syrian revolution, followed by the internationalization of the Syrian war and followed lastly with how we in the United States can best help the Syrians in their struggle.

Medeiros said that after 400 years of foreign domination with first the Ottoman Empire and then the French Mandate, Syrians ended their foreign rule in 1946, “(i)n 1949, Syria’s young democracy was overthrown by an army colonel backed by the CIA” and in 1963 the Syrian Ba’ath Party seized power.  He characterized the Ba’athists as “espous(ing) pan-Arab nationalism, top-down statist modernization, and Arab socialism.”  He added in 1970 Hafez al-Assad, the defense minister and “de-facto leader” took complete control of the country.  Mederios characterized the regime under Hafez al-Assad as “essentially (a) fascist dictatorship.”  He explained how al-Assad was able to maintain power.  He won popular support by improving rural conditions through regime-initiated large modernization, redistributing land to peasants, expanding the state to provide the urban working and middle classes with public sector jobs and he won support of the Alawites by integrating them into the power structure. Regarding state repression, Medeiros said to enforce complete obedience to the state and dictator, the army and secret police were used.

Mederios said in 2000, Hafez al-Assad died and his son, Bahsar, assumed power through a unanimous vote in a “sham election.”  He pointed out Bashar al-Assad accelerated the market liberalization, which “led to a dramatic increase in poverty, unemployment, and the concentration of wealth in an even smaller fraction of society, often in(to) …Assad’s own family.”  Mederios claimed the accelerated market liberalization contributed to making Syria “ripe for…revolutionary fervor…in 2011.”

Regarding the non-violent revolution, Medeiros said it didn’t start as an armed rebellion for revolutionary change, “but (for) things like jobs, basic rights, and an end to corruption, discrimination, brutality, and repression” and it began “as a multi-ethnic, non-sectarian movement.”  He added a democratic awakening occurred with the creation of “scores of independent media centers, films, newspapers, and magazines, and the flourishing of street art and citizen journalism.”

Regarding the internationalization of the Syrian war, Medieros said some leftists who characterize the Syrian revolution as nothing but a US-led plot against the anti-imperialist Assad regime, is a lie.  He argued the Assad regime was not anti-imperialist by pointing out the Syrian government joined the US during the first Gulf War, allowed Israel to keep the Golan Heights, weakened Palestinian resistance and lent the CIA torture during the Bush-Cheney years.  He explained how the US provided minimal limited support to the rebels to contain their revolution.  He said, “When the US began sending aid to rebel groups, it mostly consisted of nonlethal equipment and a trickle of light weapons…The CIA aggressively intervened to stop revolutionaries from gaining access to anti-aircraft weapons…The US repeatedly turned off the minimal flow of arms and ammunition whenever the rebels proved too successful on the battlefield.”

Medieros lastly told the audience how they could help.  He told them to arm themselves with knowledge and not to forget the uprising began as a democratic awakening; to learn and listen to revolutionary-democratic Syrians; to organize solidarity by supporting the White Helmets, the Syrian Medical Society, Doctors without Borders; and to echo the demands of Syrians, such as an end to all sieges, the immediate release of all political prisoners, a massive increase in direct humanitarian aid, the removal of all foreign armies and militias from Syrian soil, accountability for war criminals and to demand rights for refugees.

According to the Dr. Marshall Blesofsky for LBCC (Long Beach Community College District) Trustee Facebook page, Marshall Blesofsky is a retired educator from the University of Southern California and taught in the Allied Health Program at Long Beach City College.

According to the publication “The Socialist,” Zach Medeiros is a history student and is the Male Co-Chair of the Socialist Party’s International Relations Committee.

Barry Saks is married to Marlene Alvarado.

To hear the audio of Marshall Blesofsky’s talk, click here.

To hear the audio of Zach Mederios’s talk, click here.

To download the transcript of Mederios’s talk, click here.

Protesters March in Los Angeles Against U.S. Wars

26 Apr

DSC_0106

Antiwar Protest at Pershing Square, Los Angeles, April 2017; Photo by Barry Saks

About 25 people, many were from California for Progress and the local Green Party, marched from Pershing Square in Los Angeles, on Sunday, April 23, to the downtown Federal Building on Temple Ave. to protest the U.S. interventions in Afghanistan, Syria, Iraq, Yemen, Libya, Pakistan and Somalia.

 

 

Whether standing outside of Pershing Square on the corner of 5th and Olive Streets or marching to the Federal Building, the protesters chanted.

DSC_0111

Stephanie Delgado, standing on the edge of Pershing Square on April 23, 2017, with her sign, protesting; Photo by Barry Saks 

One chant was “Funds for jobs and education, not for wars and occupation.”  Another was “No war in the Middle East.” A third chant was “When the Middle East is under attack, what do we do?  Stand up, fight back.”  A fourth chant was “All we are saying is give peace a chance.”  A fifth chant was “What do we want?  Peace.  When do we want it?  Now.” A sixth chant was “Love and peace, no more war in the Middle East.”  A seventh chant was “This racist war has got to go.”

DSC_0131

Antiwar Protesters Marching Toward the Downtown Federal Building, April 23, 2017; Photo by Barry Saks

While most of the chants, addressed peace, war and its costs, the issue of immigration was, particularly raised with the chants, “No ban, no wall, sanctuary for all. No hate no fear, refugees are welcome here” and “You build a wall, we tear it down.  From Palestine to Mexico, all the walls have got to go.”

DSC_0162

Antiwar Protesters Listening to Speakers, April 23, 2017, Outside an Entrance to the Downtown Federal Building; Photo by Barry Saks 

On arrival to one side of the Federal Building, a pro-immigrant rights rally was taking place.  The antiwar protesters, who had early chanted a couple of pro-immigrant chants, greeted the other rally by continuing their pro-immigrant chants.  After about 10 minutes, the antiwar protesters moved to another entrance to the Federal Building, where they ended their protest with more speakers and announcements.

DSC_0166

Tania Singh Speaking, April 23, 2017, at Downtown Federal Building; Photo by Barry Saks

The idea of the protest came initially from Tania Singh, 28, who has a bachelor’s degree in political science.  Singh said she started thinking about the need to protest two or three months ago and was aware of the U. S. bombings.  She tried to get people in the Democratic Party involved, but found no interest.  At first she was going to stand on a corner by herself in her neighborhood with a sign.  She posted her desire to protest on Facebook; she heard from California for Progress and others, which wanted to do more and this is how this protest came about.  Singh said, “There has never been a time when they (the United States) go in and that place is left better than it was before….(T)here are better ways to achieve peace.”

DSC_0102

Allie White at Pershing Square, Los Angeles, April 23, 2017; Photo by Barry Saks

One of those who encouraged Singh to build something larger was Allie White, 29, who is with California for Progress.  White characterized California for Progress as leaderless.  She pointed out her organization supports indigenous and immigrant rights.

One of those who marched was James Carter, 24.  Carter said he was a member of the Socialist Party of Los Angeles and belongs to West Angeles Church of God in Christ.  He said he was there to oppose U.S. imperialism in the Middle East and added, “Usually we (the U.S.) say we are freeing people or liberating them from some kind of dictator, but that is rarely ever the case…. But then we occupied them for two decades or so.”

Another marcher was Jimmy Rivera.  Rivera said he was “part of the Green Party.”  Rivera, like Carter, said he was opposed to the U.S. imperialist wars.

DSC_0118

Yolanda Gonzalez, outside Pershing Square, Los Angeles, April 23, leading chants; Photo by Barry Saks

Another marcher was Yolanda Gonzalez, 56.  Gonzales said she’s a member of the Green Party and a teacher of 25 years, who teaches in a project-based-learning classroom.  Gonzalez, said, “I want to teach my students about the militarization that has been occurring in this country since its inception and that peace has to come from each one of us.”

The Facebook page for the event said, “On April 23, 2017 the people of Los Angeles unite to denounce military interventions, wars, and war crimes the United States is culpable for…. (W)e unite to call for demilitarization, de-escalation, & diplomacy….We call on our human family around the world to join us in demanding a demilitarized world.”

 

 

 

Long Beach City Council Defies President, Supports California Bills–Values Act, Religious Freedom Act

10 Feb

3rdchosen

Photo by Barry Saks; Audience member holding sign, on Tuesday, Feb. 7, 2017 at Long Beach City Council Meeting

The Long Beach City Council, in a full chamber with a small overflow, on Tuesday, Feb. 7, voted to support California Senate Bills 31 and 54, as amended.

California State Senate Bill 31, known as California Religious Freedom Act, prevents the “state or local agency or public employee acting under color of the law” from (p)rovid(ing) or disclos(ing) to federal government authorities personally identifiable information regarding the religious beliefs, practices, or affiliation of any individual for the purpose of compiling a list, registry, or database of individuals based on religious affiliation, national origin or ethnicity” and prevents using “agency money, facilities, property equipment, or personnel” for the creation of a list, registry or database “for law enforcement or immigration purposes.”  California Senator Ricardo Lara (Democrat, 33rd District) introduced the bill.

California State Senate Bill 54, known as the “California Values Act,” states it will immediately take place, it prevents state and local law enforcement agencies from using “agency or department moneys, facilities, property, equipment, or personnel to investigate, interrogate, detain, detect, or arrest persons for immigration enforcement purposes.”  It also prevents those same law enforcement agencies from “(p)erforming the functions of an immigration officer.”  However, it doesn’t prevent the same law enforcement agencies “from responding to a request from federal immigration authorities for information about a specific person’s previous criminal arrests or convictions.”  California Senate Pro Tempore Kevin de Leon (Democrat, 24nd District) introduced the bill.

In the council chambers, during the comment period, while two speakers spoke against supporting the two bills, dozens of speakers spoke in favor and most added they wanted Long Beach to become a sanctuary city.

2ndchosen

Photo by Barry Saks; Member of Audience Holding Sign, at the Tuesday, Feb. 7 2017, While Standing in Line to Speak During the Time for Public Comments

Just before the last speaker, many in the audience stood up and chanted, “Sanctuary, not deportation.”

5thchosen

Photo by Barry Saks; Members of Audience Chanting Tuesday, Feb. 7, 2017, in Council Chambers during Long Beach City Council Meeting

After public comments, 1st District Councilwoman Lena Gonzalez, who put forward the support motion, said Senate Bill 54 sets a statewide standard and asked Diana Tang, Manager of Government Affairs, about the legislative process, the status of the bills, and more specifically the issue of violent and serious crime, and human trafficking as it is related to SB54. In response, Tang said both bills are now in the Senate and because both are emergency bills, a two-thirds vote will be required in both houses.  She said, if they pass, they then will be sent to the Governor for him to consider and that SB54 is still in its original form.

The Mayor, in response to the discussion between the councilwoman and Tang, reported he had spoken that day to the Senate Pro Tempore, who told the Mayor he is in discussion with the State Police Chiefs Association to ensure there is interagency communication, particularly regarding human trafficking and other issues, and that he is looking at and supports language that allows for interagency coordination with Federal law enforcement regarding violent and serious crimes.

Then, the Councilwoman Gonzalez said while she supports the two bills, she said she also supports the same amendments the Senate Pro Tempore is pursuing.  She then amended her motion to include her two concerns.

Then, 2nd District Councilwoman Jeannine Pearce, who also signed on in support of the two bills, reminded the other councilmembers that they supported last November a motion urging the Federal government to provide Jose Alvarez humanitarian parole and then said, “As a state and as city we have gone too far and we will not go back.”  She then asked how Long Beach Police Department has implemented the recently passed California Trust Act, (Assembly Bill 4), which prohibits law enforcement from detaining an individual for Federal Immigration after the individual becomes eligible for release from custody, unless specified conditions are met.

Deputy Police Chief Michael Beckman responded.  He said LBPD complies with the California Trust Act and said since the act’s implementation, “I.C.E. (U.S. Department of Homeland Security Immigration and Customs Enforcement) has never provided the Long Beach Police Department a signed court order and/or has traveled to the Long Beach Police Department to take custody of an undocumented immigrant.”

Then 7th District City Councilman Roberto Uranga, who also endorsed the motion of support, said, “We are experiencing a President who is a thug, who is a blackmailer and who is potentially an extortionist.  He is threatening to withhold federal funds to not only the states and the state of California, but to the City of Long Beach, as well.”

Then, 3rd District City Councilwoman Suzie Price said, “I am a descendant of immigrants from one of the countries, where there is currently the ‘non-ban’ and it has been a very scary time for people in my community, as well, and I actually had an opportunity to meet with them on Sunday…. and I explained to people in that community my concerns with sanctuary city.”  For the Councilwoman, her concerns centered on the fiscal impact of the city becoming a sanctuary city and asked for clarification.

Tang said it was unclear what the fiscal impact would be.

The Councilwoman then said Long Beach becoming a sanctuary city was not the agenda.  She then voiced her concerns about Senate Bill 54 and offered an amendment to support Senate Bill 31, but asked Senate Bill 54 be sent to the State Legislative Committee and the Public Safety Committee.

Councilwoman Gonzalez responded politely and then rejected Councilwoman Price’s amendment.

Then, 8th District Councilman Al Austin said it was a “no brainer” for him to support the motion.  He added, as a suggested amendment that there may be other bills, which could be supported.  Councilwoman Gonzalez accepted his amendment.

Then, 9th District Councilman and Vice Mayor Rex Richardson, who also initially supported the motion, said, “These bills on the table they demonstrate some very critical values, religious freedom and trust….The tone in Washington is quickly eroding that trust.”

The last councilperson to speak before the vote was 4th District Councilman Daryl Supernaw.  The councilman echoed Councilwoman Price that the issue of sanctuary city was not on the agenda.  He then said because the item was not put on the agenda until Friday afternoon, consequently he was not able to notify the people in his district.

After the councilmembers spoke, the Mayor stated his support for the motion and pointed out that Long Beach is not only a city of immigrants, but also of refugees.

The council voted 7-0 for the motion with the three amendments.  Absent were 5th District Councilwoman Stacy Mungo and 6th District Councilman Dee Andrews.

4thchosen

Photo by Barry Saks; audience holding signs, Tuesday, Feb. 7, 2017 during the Long Beach City Council Meeting.