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“The Wanted 18,” Which Variety Calls ‘Ingenious’ to Screen in Long Beach

20 Jun

The Middle East Task Force of the Southwest California Synod of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America will show on Sunday, June 24, at 4 p.m. at Christ Lutheran Church, 6500 East Stearns St., Long Beach, the film, “The Wanted 18.”

Jay Weissberg, in his film review of Nov. 29, 2014, said, “Only the tragically absurd Israeli-Palestinian situation could transform the simple act of milking cows into a perceived threat to national security, yet that’s the amazing story of Paul Cowan and Amer Shomali’s ingenious documentary…Mixing talking heads, a smattering of archival footage, and smile-inducing claymation (stop-action animation with clay), the helmers (directors) bring to life a time during the First Intifada when the residents of Beit Sahour, in the Occupied Territories, started a dairy collective, highlighting the ridiculous without losing track of the seriousness of all acts of resistance….In 1988…citizens from Beit Sahour decided they were tired of being forced to purchase all dairy supplies from Israel, so they bought 18 cows from a sympathetic kibbutznik.  It was an anomaly on multiple levels: Palestinians have a sheep-raising (not bovine) (sic) culture, and, beyond that, this was a community of academics and professionals, so they sent student Salim Jaber to the U.S. to learn the finer points of milking and animal husbandry.”

To read the Variety review, click here.

The Al-Jazeera review of April 26, 2016 pointed out Beit Sahour was a “predominantly Christian Arab village.”

Cowan is associated with the National Film Board of Canada and has directed nine other films.

Shomali, besides directing the film, narrates.

According to the website of Columbia University’s Center for Palestine Studies, in welcoming Shomali as a visiting artist, Shomali “is a Palestinian multidisciplinary artist, using painting, digital media, films, installations and comics as tools to explore and interact with the Palestinian sociopolitical scene focusing on the creation and the use of Palestinian revolution iconography. He holds a Master’s degree in Animation from the Arts University Bournemouth in the United Kingdom and a Bachelor’s degree in Architecture from Birzeit University” and that “his work at many exhibitions around the world including France, Belgium, Greece, Tunisia, Germany and Canada.”

According to a PDF flyer for the event, at 6 p.m., a catered Middle Eastern dinner will be available, “free-will offering will be taken (donations accepted), an opportunity “to discuss the film and…current events” and at 7 p.m., there will be a “Prayer Service for Peace.”

According to the website of the Southern California Synod of the ELCA, more than 120 churches comprise the synod, serving the counties of Kern, Los Angeles, San Luis Obispo, Santa Barbara and Ventura.

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.



JVP-LA to Sen. Harris: Condemn the Killing by Israel

20 May


Fifty people gathered, outside the Los Angeles office of California Sen. Kamala Harris at 11845 W. Olympic Blvd., on Friday, May 18, to mourn the deaths of more than 100 Palestinians the Israeli Defense Forces killed during the weeks of what Palestinians called the Great Return March and to request the senator to end her silence regarding the Israeli violence against the Gazan protesters.

Jewish Voice for Peace – Los Angeles organized the event.

The crowd assembled a short distance from the senator’s office.  Toward the office, they walked on the sidewalk slowly and sung, in Hebrew, solemnly “Ahava V’rachamim Chesed V’shalom,” which means “We are sending love and compassion, kindness and liberating peace.”  The signs they carried read—Stop Killing Protesters in Gaza; Jews say: Let Gaza Live; Senator Harris, End your silence! Condemn the killing of Gaza Protesters.

On arrival outside the office, Dennis Korteuer, who is a member of JVP-LA and a Professor Emeritus from Cal State University Long Beach, read a prepared statement.  It said, “We stand together this evening in mourning for the over 100 Palestinians murdered in Gaza while protesting in the Great March of Return.  Invoking Jewish tradition and ritual, we offer our respect for those killed and love to their grieving families.  In addition, we affirm the right of Palestinians to protest and honor their struggle for the right to return home.  We call on Sen. Harris to end her silence on this week’s horrific events in Gaza and use her leadership to condemn indiscriminate killings and injuries of grassroots protesters and journalists.”

Some of those killed had their names called with their age.  As the names were called, either stones or flowers were placed near the burning Yahrzeit candles.

Barry Saks is a member of JVP.


Long Beach: Activists Celebrate May Day 2018 with March and Rallies

4 May
May Day 2018

Photo by Barry Saks

About 150 people, many being youth of color, on Tuesday, May 1, marched from the north end of Caesar E. Chavez Park to Long Beach City Hall, to celebrate May Day and to highlight a range of issues from protecting the local wetlands from oil drilling to protecting the rights of workers, immigrants and tenants.

The May Day Long Beach Coalition, which characterizes itself, according to its website, as “a coalition of “organizations united for workers’ rights, immigrant rights, tenant rights, and black & (sic) brown unity,” organized the march and the rallies at each end of the march.

George Funmaker, May Day 2018, Long Beach

George Funmaker, co-founder of Red Earth Defense, speaks, on Tuesday, May 1, 2018, in Caesar Chavez Park for Long Beach May Day 2018; photo by Barry Saks

One of the first speakers at the park was George Funmaker, who characterizes himself as a co-founder Red Earth Defense.  Funmaker, who was introduced as an indigenous activist, began his remarks by acknowledging those present were on land, which the Tongva people once inhabited.  He said as indigenous activist, his focus is on the land.  He added, “When we talk about justice and equality we first have to tell the true story, the true history of this country, what it was built on, on genocide and oppression and greed.”

Another speaker at the park was Jonaya Chadwick, who spoke for the need for renter’s rights.  Chadwick, who was identified as being with Housing Long Beach, said she has lived in the same Long Beach location for 19 years with her disabled mother who lives on a fixed income of about $900 each month.  Chadwick said, “(D)ue to no rent control or just-cause eviction in Long Beach, me and my mom will be displaced sooner or later.”

Local trade union activist, Nerexda Soto spoke for UNITE HERE Local 11 and the Long Beach Coalition for Good Jobs and a Healthy Community, as she did last year.  However, this year she also emceed.  Soto reminded the audience the Long Beach City Council voted down in September 2017 a proposal for panic buttons for hotel workers.  In response, she said the union and its supporters have launched a ballot-initiative campaign and are collecting signatures.  Soto said, “If anybody knows UNITE HERE and our coalition, we don’t give up…We can’t trust the city council and the mayor, so we’re doing it ourselves.”

Xenia Arriola, representing Gabriela Los Angeles, followed Soto. Arriola divided her time, between reading aloud a statement and then performing her poem.  Arriola, in part, said, “I am a member of Gabriela Los Angeles.  We are grassroots Filipino women’s organization and we have members here in Long Beach…Los Angeles….We also have 200 chapters all over the world.  We fight for the rights and liberation of the Filipino people here in the United States and in the Philippines.  As Gabriela, we want to share about the conditions that migrant-working woman face here and abroad.  Many Filipino migrant workers are sent to places where they are overworked, underpaid and abused.”

After reading her statement, Arriola performed her spoken-word poem.




According to the Gabriela-USA website, the term, Gabriela, has two origins: first, the initials stand for “General Assembly Binding Women for Reforms, Integrity, Education, Leadership, and Action” and second, Gabriela is “named in honor of Gabriela Silang, the first Filipino woman to lead a revolt against the Spanish colonization of the Philippines.”



After Arriola spoke and performed, the crowd marched to Long Beach City Hall and chanted.  They chanted: No justice, no peace, no racist police; No Trump, No KKK, No racist USA; Get up, get down, there’s a people’s movement in this town; From Palestine to Mexico, all the walls have got to go; Black lives, they matter here; Education, not deportation; Move ICE (U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement), get out the way, get out the way; If we don’t get no justice, you don’t get no peace; The people united, will never be divided; No wall, no fear, immigrants are welcome here; One struggle, one fight, housing is a human right.



On arrival, a second rally was held outside city hall,

Near the beginning at the rally at the park, the member organizations of the coalition were read aloud.  They were Anakbayan Long Beach, Act Now to Stop War and Racism (Los Angeles), Black Lives Matter Long Beach, California Faculty Association, Clergy Laity United for Economic Justice, Coalition for Latino Advancement at LBCC (Long Beach City College), DAYS, Filipino Migrant Center, Gabriela Los Angeles, Greater Long Beach Interfaith Community Organization, Housing Long Beach, Long Beach Tenants Union, Justice for Port Truck Drivers Campaign, Los Angeles Alliance for a New Economy, Little Brown Church, Long Beach Area Peace Network, Long Beach Coalition for Good Jobs and a Healthy Community, Long Beach G.R.R.R.L. Collective, Long Beach Immigrant Rights Coalition, Palestinian  Youth Movement, Semillas de Esperanza (Seeds of Hope), Stop Fracking Long Beach, UNITE HERE (Local 11, in the hotel industry) and Democratic Socialists of America (Long Beach).






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.


Photo by Barry Saks


Long Beach Students March for Their Lives

26 Mar

More than a 1,000 students, parents and their supporters, in solidarity with the March for Our Lives in Washington, D.C., on Saturday, March 24, rallied twice at Bixby Park, with a march in between, to end gun violence.

Student leader Kelly Chinchilla, who is a student in the Long Beach Unified School District, emceed the rally, which included speeches by student leaders and local elected officials.  Among the elected local officials who spoke were Mayor Robert Garcia, 3rd District Councilwoman Suzie Price, Long Beach Unified District President Megan Kerr and Los Angeles County 4th District Los Angeles Supervisor Janice Hahn.

Hahn told the crowd that tougher gun-control ordinances for Los Angeles County will be forthcoming, without being specific, which will limit where and what kind of gun  may be purchased and how old someone must be to purchase a gun.

Besides the speeches, there was poetry and music.

The rally’s program began with Isaiah Walker, who teaches at Wilson High School and the director of the school’s gospel choir.  Walker said he is passionate about social justice. He then sang Sam Cooke’s ‘A Change is Gonna Come.’

Chinchilla, who is also a member of Californians for Justice, at the end of the first rally and just before the march admonished the audience to not walk in the street, to not obstruct traffic and to not engage with any counter protesters.

The marchers headed on Ocean Blvd. toward downtown.  Once downtown, they turned north toward Broadway.  On Broadway, the marchers headed back to Bixby Park.

Jennifer Allyn carrying her sign at Long Beach March for Our Lives

Jennifer Allyn, with her sign, said, “I’m marching so my kids will never text me under a desk.” Photo by Barry Saks

The audience for the second rally at the park had shrunk to about three hundred.  Again, like the first rally, student leaders from the different schools spoke or performed their poetry.  Not all the speakers at the second rally were student leaders.

Alan Lowenthal, the representative from the 47th Congressional District spoke.  Lowenthal told the audience, “This is an historic moment that we are living through…I’m just honored to be part of something that was created by students, organized by students, carried out by students and will lead the nation to change.  The last time we had a student movement like this is we stopped the Vietnam War, we changed the major civil rights of this nation to protect all.”

At the end of the second rally, Chinchilla reiterated the students’ demands: ban the sale of assault-style weapons; prohibit the sale of high-capacity magazines; and, close the gun-show loophole.

Ben Rockwell at Long Beach March for Our Lives

Long Beach resident and longtime civic activist Ben Rockwell in his wheelchair with sign, on Saturday, March 24, before the first rally; photo by Barry Saks.

Before the protest, while the student leaders were setting up, Josie Hahn, a 17-year-old student at Long Beach Polytechnic High School, said, “We are here, of course, to march for our lives because recently there has been the Parkland shooting and we want our voices to be heard that guns in schools and kids dying with gun violence is no longer OK.”  She added, “As a student at Long Beach Poly, there is always gun violence around the neighborhood.”  More particularly, she said that a couple of weeks ago, as she and others were driving to Poly, she saw on the corner of Pacific Coast Highway and Martin Luther King Blvd., five police cars.  She later found out that there were three shootings around the school that time.  Hahn, who said she joined the Women’s March, later as part of the first rally’s program, read one of her poems.

One supporter, who was present with her son for the first rally was Candyce Simpson, 50.  Simpson, who has been a LBUSD high school counselor for 22 years and lives in the city of Signal Hill, said, “I’m here to support students…They shouldn’t be scared to go to school…I think they’re going to make the biggest change.  It always comes from them…We don’t support them with social and emotional counseling.  We just test them more.”

Long Beach LGBTQ Community and Allies Hold Transgender Day of Remembrance

24 Nov

About 200 people gathered on Monday, Nov. 20, at Harvey Milk Promenade Park in Long Beach, at 185 E. Third St, to remember those killed in the last year due to anti-transgender hatred, by publicly reading their names aloud.

The LGBTQ (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and questioning) Center of Long Beach, the Human Rights Campaign, the Long Beach Imperial Court and Long Beach 1st District Councilwoman Lena Gonzalez hosted the remembrance, according to the Facebook page that announced the remembrance.


Long Beach 1st District Councilwoman speaking, Monday, Nov. 20, at the Transgender Day of Remembrance; Photo by Barry Saks

According to the Center’s website, under its mission, “(t)he Center engages, empowers and advocates to achieve a more equitable society and fosters an ever-improving quality of life for the LGBTQ community.”

The HRC represents 1.5 million members and supporters nationwide, it’s the largest national LGBTQ civil rights organization and it “envisions a world where LGBTQ people are ensured of their basic equal rights, and can be open, honest and safe at home, at work and in the community,” according to its website.

According to the About Facebook page of the Long Beach Imperial Court, its mission is “(t)o sponsor, support and promote charitable and educational programs and efforts; to raise funds for organizations within the Long Beach Empire in particular organizations within the Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, Transgender and Questioning community; to promote and recognize community leaders and to shine a light on those social service organizations that offer support and overall enrichment to those in need.”


Porter Gilberg, the Executive Director of the LGBTQ Center of Long Beach, emceeing, on Monday, Nov. 20, at the Transgender Day of Remembrance; Photo by  Barry Saks

Before the names were read, Porter Gilberg, who’s the executive director of the Center, emceed. Gilberg opened the program by introducing Councilwoman Gonzalez and characterizing her as “one of the LGBTQ community’s strongest allies.”

Gonzalez said, “As we commence, you know, this beautiful night and event, it’s always so very difficult because I’ve been given a paper that show names and how people have past…It always shocks me and it is so difficult to read many of these.”

Gonzalez wasn’t the only elected official to speak.  City of Signal Hill Councilman Larry Forester followed her.  He said, “This is a very, very solemn evening.”  He added he is the president of GLBT caucus for the League of California Cities and that it published to educate people a municipal guide, “Transgender in the Workplace.”  The guide may be accessed by clicking here.

After Forester spoke, Gilberg said, “On a night where we are remembering lives lost from one of our most marginalized communities, I think it is incredibly important to acknowledge the leadership that is here tonight.”  Besides acknowledging the presence of Long Beach Councilwoman Gonzalez and Signal Hill Councilman Larry Forester, Gilberg also acknowledged the presence of Tim Patton representing Long Beach Mayor Robert Garcia, Megan Kerr, the president of the Long Beach Unified School District, Larry Blunden, the Signal Hill City Treasurer, and Maricela Renteria de Rivera, the chair of the Long Beach Transit Board.


Anna Gerringer speaking on Monday, Nov.20, at the Transgender Day of Remembrance; Pnoto by Barry Saks

Gilberg then introduced Anna Gerringer, as a “local community member” and said that Gerringer was going “to share her story of resiliency.”  She said, “I’ve been female for all of my existence…I knew I wasn’t strong enough to be openly trans (transgender) the first 48 years of my life. To be absolutely honest, I’m still not sure that I am….I’ve been assaulted several times….Violence against trans-women is rampant because they don’t want to call law enforcement, they feel that law enforcement often feels they (trans-women) have no value.”

The names were read solemnly with the audience holding candles.

The same Facebook announcing the event also said the Transgender Day of Remembrance is held yearly in November to honor Rita Hester, who was murdered on Nov. 28, 1998.