A workshop presented by Margaret Flowers, Rich Whitney and Kevin Zeese at the 2020 Green Party Annual National Meeting
He and I decided to go into the old city of Jerusalem yesterday. Because Yasser and his cousin, Lama, were both at work we went via the bus system. From Al-Ram, where Yasser and Lama live, there is no route to Jerusalem without having to pass through the Israeli military checkpoint located near the Qalandiya refugee camp, a well-known center of Palestinian resistance to Israel’s illegal occupation.
The distance between Al-Ram and Jerusalem is about 6 miles. Our journey took us nearly 2 hours. What we experienced is common for Palestinian people without cars. And on that day there were no additional delays imposed by the Israeli military at the checkpoints— just the “usual” waiting in long lines.
We left Yasser’s at around 9:00 am and were walking down the hill to the bus stop located on the town’s main street when a man in a car stopped and asked us where we were heading. We told him, he beckoned us to get in, we did, and he drove us to the bus stop, only a short distance away. A small bus was waiting, and once we learned it was heading to Qalandiya checkpoint, the first leg of our journey, we got on.
The buses that take passengers to the checkpoint are yellow mini-vans that hold up to 7 people. Like the majority of vehicles in the smaller towns in the West Bank, they tend to be battered—dusty inside and out, worn shocks, the upholstery clean but stained. Sometimes there are seatbelts, sometimes none are apparent or are broken or ripped. I never saw anyone wear one.
The driver (who was maybe in his 40’s) didn’t interact with his passengers, except to collect the bus fare and return any change to a hand at the front that passed it back to the paying passenger. Because I had a good view of the driver in the rear view mirror, I could see his face—I thought his dark eyes and face looked worn and tired, maybe bored, too, with deep creases across his forehead and along the sides of his cheeks and mouth. The exception was when a small child got on at one of the stops. His face brightened, his eyes lit up, and a small smile formed at the corners of his mouth. As everywhere, children here offer a spark of life—perhaps it’s even such momentary joy a child’s presence brings that helps keep total despair at bay.
For some unknown reason, the driver didn’t drop He and me off until we were about a ¼ mile past the checkpoint. He asked a man in one of the many shops on the street for directions. With the help of his Arabic phrase book, He managed to ask “How do we to get to Qalandiya checkpoint?”, and with hand gestures waving and pointing, the man directed us.
We turned back and headed down the shop-lined road, crowded with cars, vans, buses and pedestrians. But for one bright splash of a rose bougainvillea, it was dusty and bleak—stone rubble and trash on both sides of the road, a cement-block building with a demolished second floor, exposed rusted spines of steel holding the carcass together. We soon saw many other people heading in a particular way, so we followed.
At first we walked on the right side of the road, directly towards the gates where cars pass, but we heard a sharp whistle to get our attention, and a female soldier waved at us to move to the left side of the area. We climbed over and around temporary cement blocks and barriers and met another soldier—a young man, dark-skinned, small in stature, with a smile that softened the effect of his being fully equipped with weapons used to threaten, wound or kill. He gave us additional directions to the pedestrian Qalandiya checkpoint.
Later I remembered that not so long ago (September 2019) at this same checkpoint, a young Muslim woman had similarly seemed confused about where to go to reach the bus section. Apparently she did not turn back when warned, and so the private security guards hired by Israel chased her, shot her several times and then left her bleeding—medics of the Palestinian Red Crescent were prevented from getting to her to provide first aid. She later died in an Israeli hospital in East Jerusalem. Israel claimed she was carrying a knife.
We continued on to an official looking one-story white building with two Israeli flags flying from the flat roof—the location of the Qalandiya checkpoint that demarcates a boundary between the West Bank and East Jerusalem. With many others, mostly young or old and seemingly poorer Palestinians, we walked up the steps and into the front entrance. We then needed to pass through a winding and walled, single-person-width passageway into a large room that branched into three separate smaller rooms. We stayed in the middle room designated for people going to Jerusalem.
An elderly couple with a battered piece of luggage and large black plastic bags looked around, clearly uneasy, and uncertain about where to go. The woman in traditional Muslim dress with a hijab (headscarf that covers the head and neck) and brown, unadorned thob (a long, full robe-like dress) took the lead and walked around examining the rooms and signs. After a brief and quiet discussion with her husband, the couple moved to the room on the right.
The next step in passing through the checkpoint was to go through a floor-to-ceiling metal turnstile big enough for one person at a time that allowed only a certain number of people to pass through before it stopped turning. As we exited, we were directed to another turnstile (similar to those for getting onto a train in a subway) where we were required to show our passport to an armed guard. Palestinians were required to show their ID card.
We moved through yet another floor-to-ceiling turnstile before we were required to put our backpacks, jewelry and other metal items onto an airport-type conveyor belt that moved through a machine checking for dangerous items stowed in the bags. And we, too, had to walk through a metal-detecting device so the Israeli guards could be ensured that we posed no security threat.
From that point, we were allowed to exit the building and go to the bus station, a large dirt-packed parking area with white coach-sized buses for passengers wanting to travel to the East Jerusalem bus station. Two full buses later, we were able to get onto a bus with vacant seats. And at 11:00 we arrived at the East Jerusalem bus station, 2 hours after leaving Yasser’s.
Such is the daily life for many Palestinians.
Sending this with love and with the commitment to work for the freedom and human rights of the Palestinian people,
Above Photo: Fist raised, Spenser Rapone displays a slogan written inside his cap after graduating from the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, N.Y., in May 2016. (Courtesy of Spenser Rapone via AP)
Editor’s note: On the outside, Spenser Rapone’s West Point graduation uniform looked like all the other cadets’. Underneath his dress uniform, however, was evidence of his political views: a T-shirt bearing Argentine revolutionary Che Guevara’s image, and a cap that read, inside, “Communism will win.”
The shirt and hat made waves in the U.S. military community after Rapone posted photos of them on social media in September, and now he has been given an “other than honorable” discharge. According to The Associated Press, he was charged with “conduct unbecoming of an officer” after an Army investigation determined that he “went online to promote a socialist revolution and disparage high-ranking officers.”
In the following statement for Truthdig, Rapone explains his political beliefs.
I am a combat veteran with the First Ranger Battalion, a recent graduate of West Point and a former second lieutenant who was stationed at Fort Drum, N.Y. Since identifying myself as a socialist, there has been much controversy generated by a number of my public statements.
It began with my post on social media, in which I expressed my full and enthusiastic support of former 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick in his fight against racial injustice, white supremacy and police brutality. After revealing a picture of myself in uniform with the hashtag #VeteransForKaepernick, I was met by solidarity from my fellow soldiers, as well as harsh blowback from my chain of command.
To this day, I stand by my convictions, despite the efforts of ranking officers to pressure me into silence. I believe that standing up for the exploited and the oppressed is the most honorable thing we can do as people. No job should hinder or repress this pursuit, which is why I decided to resign my commission as an officer in the United States Army. My conditional resignation was denied by the secretary of the Army. Instead, the military forced me into either submitting an unconditional resignation or appearing before a board of inquiry—an adversarial trial in which a jury of senior officers would determine my fate. Rather than submit to the antics of what amounts to a show trial at best, I tendered my unconditional resignation. Passing judgment on me one last time, the military determined the character of my service to be “other than honorable.” Despite the brass prolonging my time in service, I have come to the conclusion that leaving the military altogether, whatever the circumstances, is the only moral way forward. During this ordeal, I have learned that I am far from alone in my feelings of disillusionment and betrayal within the rank and file of the U.S. military.
As a teenager, I believed the United States military was a force of good for the world. I thought that I signed up to fight for freedom and democracy, to protect my loved ones and my country from harm. My experiences showed me otherwise.
After bearing witness to the senseless destruction in Afghanistan during my combat deployment to Khost Province in the summer of 2011, I knew that our wars must be stopped. I was assigned to my platoon as an assistant machine-gunner. I took part in missions where human beings were killed, captured and terrorized. However, the horror wrought by the U.S. military’s overseas ventures is not limited to combat engagements alone. Some nights, we barely did anything at all but walk through a village. As such, the longer I was there, the more it became apparent that the mere presence of an occupying force was a form of violence. My actions overseas did not help or protect anybody. I felt like I was little more than a bully, surrounded by the most well-armed and technologically advanced military in history, in one of the poorest countries in the world. I saw many of my fellow soldiers all too eager to carry out violence for the sake of violence. There is no honor in such bloodlust; quite the contrary. I saw firsthand how U.S. foreign policy sought to carry out the subjugation of poor, brown people in order to steal natural resources, expand American hegemony and extinguish the self-determination of any group that dare oppose the empire. Idealistic and without a coherent worldview yet, I thought that perhaps pursuing an officer’s commission would allow me to change things and help put a stop to the madness. I was wrong.
It soon dawned on me how pervasive the military-industrial complex is. I studied, examined my own experiences and began to grasp more completely the horrors and impact of U.S. imperialism. Learning that over a million people have lost their lives since 9/11—the vast majority being innocent civilians—began to haunt me. Seeing that up to a trillion dollars a year were being diverted from education, health care and infrastructure in the U.S. to support our 800 military bases around the world began to feel increasingly maddening. Within the Army itself, one out of three women are sexually assaulted. The death of football player and later soldier Pat Tillman by friendly fire was covered up to sell a war. Generals responsible for war crimes—from the unbridled destruction of Afghan and Iraqi villages to the construction of torture prisons—are rewarded with accolades and political power. These sad and dishonorable truths increasingly grew impossible to ignore. The military was not the noble and selfless institution the commercials and Hollywood movies made it out to be—far from it.
At West Point, I soon found myself at odds with my future role as someone tasked with the responsibility of leading soldiers into battle. However, leaving West Point after my junior year would have meant returning to the enlisted ranks or finding a way to come up with a quarter-million dollars to pay the academy back. So I stuck it out, hoping I would find a way to reconcile this contradiction. Again, I was wrong. Upon returning to Fort Benning, Ga., to begin my training as an infantry officer following graduation, I was filled with dread. It was like I was in a place simultaneously familiar and unknown. There were things I noticed that my 18-year-old self could not have recognized before. Most strikingly, I observed the scope of the brainwashing within the ranks, from bald, buzz-cut, mostly teenage infantrymen fresh out of training, to college graduates eager to lead those naïve soldiers into America’s next war. I felt witness to a collective delusion—one that I was once a part of, but had somehow miraculously escaped. After nearly a year there, as I prepared to move to my new duty station at Fort Drum, one thing became clear: I cannot be a part of this any longer. I cannot kill or die for the U.S. military—no one should.
I know that I am not alone in feeling this way. My feelings and experiences are not an anomaly. I know, because I have had conversations with others who have expressed the same sentiments.
You are out there, and should you take the same steps that I have, I am with you. While the prospect is daunting, united together we have far more power than all of the generals and politicians combined. We possess the ability to grind this entire military machine to a halt. It is high time we live up to the trust and respect bestowed upon us by the people. Let our mutual love of humanity and our desire for liberation and peace be our guiding principles.
Most importantly, let us find common cause with the people of Afghanistan, Iraq, Palestine, Yemen, Syria, Libya and so many others who have suffered at the behest of the United States. To those soldiers who I’ve heard from, and to those I haven’t yet, I hope that you too find the courage to lay your weapons down with me, and refuse your orders to kill and die for the benefit of a handful of ruling-class elites at the great expense of the rest of us. Freedom lies on the other side. Together, let us fight to put a stop to these endless trillion-dollar wars, and let us join our brothers and sisters around the world in putting a stop to all forms of exploitation, oppression and senseless violence.
Trump’s support for Israel’s claim to Jerusalem makes it clear that US elites don’t want peace in the Middle East. No, they’re firing up yet another endless war to be paid in blood and treasure by the poor and disempowered at home and abroad.
This provocation – backed by top Democrats – not only endangers Middle Eastern lives in another outbreak of violence, but also puts the safety of Americans at risk. It makes a mockery of his campaign pledge to “put America first”.
The truth about Israel-Palestine is: there is no “peace process”. The cycle of violence and oppression will continue until the occupation ends.
This is a wake-up call to all who want justice for Palestine. More than ever we must build the boycott-divest-sanction movement to stop the slow-motion genocide of the Palestinian people.
We helped South Africans end apartheid with a movement to boycott-divest-sanction; now we must help Israelis and Palestinians end apartheid and win peace with justice. #BDS