Friday, June 19, 2015

Palestinians: Right to Exist

I’m sure that at the end of this article I will be labeled an anti-Semite.  It’s okay because as an African American I know about racism.  But as I morally objected to apartheid in South Africa,  oppression in the “land of the free”, and the genocide of America’s indigenous population, I must speak out against apartheid in Palestine.

Jews and African Americans know about racism.  We have each experienced our own holocausts.  The Jews in Nazi German during World War II and American blacks in the Middle Passage coming to America on slave ships.  Jews in Nazi Germany and blacks in America were also both exploited for free labor.  Although relationships between blacks and Jews have been tenuous over the years, I acknowledge the fact that the Jewish people have been consistent allies in the fight for racial justice. Julius Rosenwald, Lillian Wald, Rabbi Emil Hirsch, and Rabbi Steven Wise were original founders of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP).

Anti-Semitism is real.  In the United States there were 625 incidents of hate crimes against Jews with 737 victims as reported by the FBI in 2013.  Would that it were different.  I support the right for Jewish people to exist.  Yes.  But not at the expense of people who happen to be dark like me.  No.

Jews have enjoyed unparalleled success in America since they arrived at Ellis Island.  In 2012 it was estimated that Jews were 34% of the Forbes 400 list although they are only 1.8% of the adult population.  It is calculated that they are 100 times more likely to become billionaires than the rest of the world.  According to Wikipedia, the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) is the most powerful lobbying force in Washington.  They dominate ownership of world media and shape public opinion.
Jews wield enormous power in America and in the world.  They have a lot to celebrate.  But although I applaud the rich culture of this ethnic group, I am not writing to praise the state of Israel.  Although I find a culture of hate toward Jews repugnant, I do not support Zionism.  

With an economy in recession, ballooning deficits, and cuts in social programs, scarce American tax dollars go to fund the state of Israel. I have a problem with that and I am not alone.  Miko Peled, a Jewish anti-Zionist made these remarks in a 2012 presentation.  He said that he is often labeled a “self-hating Jew” and responds:   “Fine but can you explain to me why Palestinian children get no water; can you explain to me how you justify dropping 100 tons of bombs on children; can you explain to me throwing people out of their homes and making them homeless;  can you explain to me yanking kids out of their beds at two in the morning throwing them into prison and torturing them; can you explain all this to me? Perhaps I am anti-Semitic, now you explain all this to me.   What does that make you?”

Peled wrote the book, The General’s Son.  He came from a prominent military Zionist family, son of a general in the Israeli army.  However, after the atrocities of the 1967 war, Peled’s father became a pro-Palestinian peacemaker advocating Palestinian’s right to their own land. 

As unusual as that is, it is merely a footnote to the whole incredible story.  Peled became an activist like his father, but in 1997 suicide bombers killed his niece, Smadar.  This was a great propaganda opportunity for the Zionists, but Peled and his family stood firm.  When people expected Smadar’s mother to call for vengeance for this horrific tragedy, the mourners were met with these words, “No real mother would want such a terrible thing to happen to another mother.”

Peled is no racist and neither am I.  Although Jews play the race card regarding their “right to exist”, all their economic power and military might not only allow them to exist, but to dominate.  The United States threatens Iran with war for even thinking about nuclear armament but Israel’s nuclear arsenal goes unchecked.  Mohammed Elbaradel, International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) director general stated,  "This is not really sustainable that you have Israel sitting with nuclear weapons capability there while everyone else is part of the non-proliferation regime."

In 2014 the IAEA once again rejected a resolution to inspect Israel’s nuclear facility.  Although 26 nations abstained to vote, the U.S., Britain, France and Germany voted against inspections.  When Sadaam Hussein supposedly rejected inspections, the U.S. invaded.  America funds Israel’s unchecked nuclear stockpile and is the largest supplier of their weapons. We sanction and invade Iraq; Israel we send money.
Of course Israel has a right to defend herself, but she has the greatest military arsenal in the Middle East.  The question is, do the Palestinians have that same right?  The Palestinians claim 1300 years of history in their land, interrupted only by the Christian Crusades (1099-1187).
According to “Albalagh”:
The conquest of Palestine by the Muslims put an end to centuries of instability, religious persecution, and colonial rule…Finally, in 1187 CE, Palestine was liberated by the Muslims … Peace and justice once again ruled Palestine, and everyone, regardless of their religion, was allowed to live there peacefully.” 
Then in 1917 the Balfour Declaration, (a letter) stated that Britain supported the Zionist occupation of Palestine.   One blog on the subject has a very astute comment that reflects my own common sense thinking:
Looking through the pages of history, it becomes clear that the war over the possession of Palestine and Jerusalem has been going on between Muslims, Christians and Jews since Biblical times without reaching any settlement ever. Archaeological findings and statements in Bible clearly show that Palestine was inhabited by non-Jewish Semites a long time before Jews even claimed that it is their “promised land” and long after that. The justification of Jews, that they claim the land because it belonged to them 3,300 years ago and was lost in the war, is absurd because if that logic is true; America should give the southwestern territory back to Mexicans and the rest of the land to Indians.

What disturbs me is that many black Christian churches support Zionism as God’s commandment.  They cheerfully argue that God will bless whosoever blesses Israel.  And yet the Ethiopian (black) Israelites face discrimination that would make Jewish civil rights workers blush and black people march.
In an article entitled “Tribulation of Being an Ethiopian Jew”, one woman says that she is routinely called the “n-word.” Black Israelis are an educated population of 125,000 according to a Myers-JDC-Brookdale Institute report.  Ethiopian-Israeli scores were 80 to 90 percent of the Jewish population results on the 2009-10 National Achievement Exams. The report goes on to list glaring economic disparities including the fact that Ethiopian-Israeli women’s average monthly income is $3,900 compared to $6,400 for their white peers.

The Ethiopian-Israeli dilemma is a case of job discrimination, housing discrimination, and separate but not equal accommodations.   Just after the Baltimore Freddie Gray riots in April, thousands of black Israelis took to the streets protesting police brutality of a black Israeli soldier.  Protestors met riot police with bottles and stones.  Al Jazeera reports that “central Tel Aviv looked like a battlefield” with injuries on both sides of the melee.
As for Palestinians, an article entitled “Jim Crow in Palestine: parallels between US and Israeli racism” states that although Birmingham, Alabama was physically very different from Gaza, lack of basic municipal services such as garbage collection, sewers, paved streets, and sidewalks are similar.  In America’s Jim Crow South, black people would have to yield to white people on the street, moving aside if they approached.  In Israel Palestinians are restricted as to what streets they can walk on.

Israeli war crimes abound.  Linguist and political commentator Noam Chomsky told Press TV that even South African apartheid was not as brutal as Palestinian occupation.  Hospitals have been attacked repeatedly. Each one is a war crime. In fact, for Israel to fire one bullet across the border is also a crime. Trials for war crimes only apply to the defeated.”
The 49 years of Palestinian occupation is the longest military occupation in the world.  Gaza Palestinians describe their fenced in colonization as “the world’s largest prison.”.
But Israel’s human rights violations do not go unnoticed.  Fifteen religious leaders sent a letter to Congress asking them to make the three billion dollars in aid to Israel contingent on human rights compliance.  They cited the U.S. Foreign Assistance Act and the U.S. Arms Export Control Act that says that countries in violation of basic human rights cannot benefit from American largesse.  In other words, the U.S. is in violation of its own laws.

Amnesty International weighed in on the issue:

In this regard, on 21 July, (2014) Amnesty International USA issued a statement entitled “Attacks on Medical Facilities and Civilians Add to War Crime Allegations”, stating, among other things, that “the continuing bombardment of civilian homes in several areas in the Gaza Strip, as well as the Israeli shelling of a hospital, add to the list of possible war crimes that demand an urgent independent international investigation.”

Although there is resistance to the media fairytale of Israel’s “right to exist” on someone else’s land, most people are content to drink the Kool-Aid.  A Gallup World Affairs survey reports that 7 out of 10 Americans support Israel.  Only 17% sympathize with Palestinians.  However, since truth is the first casualty of war, I would submit that most people don’t know the whole truth.

An example of the media distortion of facts was in 2002 when President Obama offered Yasser Arafat, Chairman of the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) a peace deal that the American press lauded as “generous” and “unprecedented”.  Arafat was excoriated for not accepting it.  Rabbi Michael Lerner, founder and editor, Tikkun magazine, USA said that it was an “impossible deal.”  Sam Husseini of the Institute for Public Accuracy was more descriptive:

 It’s as if the Palestinians had been put in the basement of their house and they might be allowed most of the rooms, but Israel gets to control all of the hallways and some of the rooms, so if you want to go from your living room to your bedroom you got to go though an Israeli checkpoint. If you want to go from your kitchen to your bathroom you got to go through an Israeli checkpoint.  Do you really control your house under that set of circumstances?

“Unprecedented” might have been in the ballpark of truth, but generosity was nowhere in the neighborhood.

With this kind of media propaganda it is no wonder that anti-Zionist and anti-Semitic are joined at the hip.  So I may be called an anti-Semite.  Although I have quoted many pro-Palestinian Jews in this article, a Pew Research study revealed that they are “a minority…so small that it is statistically insignificant.”  Nonetheless, I stand in good company even though I advocate a very unpopular position.

The noted Protestant pastor, Martin Niemoller (1892-1984) spoke out against Adolph Hitler.   He is known for these compelling words, “First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out—because I was not a Socialist. Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out— because I was not a Trade Unionist. Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out— because I was not a Jew. Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me.”

Well, they have come for the Palestinians and I am a black American wondering -- who is next?

White Privilege and Rachel Dolezal: You Can’t Make this Stuff Up

“White privilege” is a term that makes most white people uncomfortable.  They want to believe that whatever success they have in society has been earned by discipline and hard work.  The idea that they may be favored to succeed is not something that they want to think about.  Understandable.
Wikipedia defines white privilege as “a term for societal privileges that benefit white people in western countries beyond what is commonly experienced by non-white people under the same social, political, or economic circumstances.”  Simply put, whites “enjoy advantages that non-whites do not experience.”

“Imitation of Life” is a movie made in 1934 and remade in 1959 that showcases the difference between white life and black life in America.  The character Sarah Jane who is a very fair and recalcitrant mulatto teenager, tries to escape the poverty and denigration of being black by passing for white.  Her mother, who is decidedly brown, is a maid to a white woman who is a wealthy actress.  Although the white woman is very magnanimous in her treatment of both mother and daughter, Sarah Jane is ashamed of her mother and rejects her until her death.  The funeral scene is one of the biggest tearjerkers in Hollywood history. “Trouble in this World” sung by Mahalia Jackson who is a gospel monument, is the heart-breaking dirge played as the distraught and repentant Sarah Jane throws herself on her mother’s coffin.

It might be said that “Trouble in this World” is a good description of the post-slavery, post-Jim Crow, post-lynching life of African Americans.  Passing for white is not only about gaining access to a Woolworth lunch counter to order a Coke. During slavery it was a choice for freedom instead of bondage.  Sometimes it’s even a choice of life over death. Certainly it can be economic choice.

Today the fact is that the median income of black households is less than 60% of white ones.  Blacks are twice as jobless as whites.  It goes on.  So even though forfeiting family and friends is heart wrenching for miscegenated blacks, it is understandable.  However, the reverse, white people passing for black, is unheard of.  In fact in the term “passing” used by black people, it is implicit that it is black to white without even mentioning race.  It’s a given because nobody in their right mind would pass from white to black.

Until Rachel Dolezal.

Twitter is on fire with reactions to a white woman who passed for black and became president of the NAACP chapter in Spokane, Washington.  Black people have special radar for scoping out their own, and even with her tan skin and hard-core African braided hairstyle, black people were buzzing.  It’s not that whites have not played a prominent role in the NAACP history, but with Dolezal, something was off.

Because her race was in question, reporters hounded Dolezal’s estranged parents to find out the truth.  They finally “outed” their daughter and said that she had no black ancestry.  A photo of Dolezal in her youth reveals a pale, freckle-faced child who looks like she came from Mayberry.  Needless to say, Dolezal resigned her position with the black organization.

But it gets worse.

Carrying the married name of Moore, turns out Dolezal attended Howard University and sued them for discriminating against her white race when they refused her a teaching job.  (You can’t make this stuff up.)

As a black activist and artist who painted African American themes, it seems that once Dolezal decided to pass for black she was committed to the lie.  But if you can’t do the time, don’t do the crime.  I’m not saying that it is criminal to be black…well, with the criminalization of the black male, it actually kind of is.  But Rachel, if you want to be a black woman, let me tell you what you have to look forward to.

HIV/AIDS is now the leading cause of death for black women ages 25-34.  In general, 66% of new AIDS cases are black women.

As for unemployment, you should have held on to your job.  Between 2009 and 2011, although black women are 12.5 percent of the population, they represented 42% of jobs lost.  Indeed, even when the endangered black male gained jobs in the recession, black women lagged behind.

And should you survive AIDS, hypertension, cancer, diabetes, strokes and asthma, which black people suffer at higher rates than whites, you can expect to die before white women.  With regard to elderly black women, according to the Women’s Institute for Secure Retirement:

Black women earn an average of $471,000 less than the average white man over a 35-year career.  As low-income workers, they are less likely to have access to employee benefits…Minority women are less likely to work in jobs covered by pensions.  Eighty percent of African American women received none of their income from private pensions or annuities…The poverty rate for singe African American women over age 65 is 32.5 percent…while for white women it is only 15.3 percent.

Although Dolezal is going through a rough patch right now, I’d say cheer up.  The good news, Rachel is that you are white.  And after all is said and done…it’s a privilege.

Incarceration of the Mentally Ill: Just Who is Insane?

The incarceration and criminalization of the mentally ill is…well, insane.  Am I being too harsh?  Let’s see.
The biggest providers for treatment of the mentally ill are LA County Jail, Rikers Island in New York and Cook County jail in Chicago.  Two million people a year are incarcerated in 44 states and the District of Columbia, holding more patients than the largest psychiatric hospital.
According to psychiatrist and schizophrenia researcher E. Fuller Torrey in his book, Out of the Shadows, Deinstitutionalization of the mentally ill is a “Psychiatric ‘Titanic’”.  He said:
Deinstitutionalization is the name given to the policy of moving severely mentally ill people out of large state institutions and then closing part or all of those institutions; it has been a major contributing factor to the mental illness crisis.”
According to the World Health Organization in Geneva, Switzerland there are about 450 million people worldwide who suffer from “mental or neurological disorders” at some point in their lives.  Mental illness ranks 4th l as the leading cause of disease in the world.  The WHO says that clinical depression will rank second by the year 2020.
Even with these statistics the WHO goes on to say that nearly 2/3 of people with a diagnosed mental illness go untreated due to the stigma associated with the disease and just plain neglect.  “Where there is neglect, there is little or no understanding.  Where there is no understanding there is neglect.”
Certainly we have come a long way from the inhumane treatment of the mentally ill in the past. Mental health “treatment” in the 14th century could be more accurately described as torture.  It looked like a page out of Dante’s Inferno with the nine circles of hell.  In the 18th century Austrian Physician Franz Mesmer invented mesmerism as a cure.  This theory was based on the gravitational pull of the moon having a profound affect on our bodily fluids, much like the moon affects ocean tides.  This led him to believe that magnetism was the answer so he arranged magnets on key parts of the body.  
American colonists diagnosed mental illness as witchcraft but by the late eighteenth century a sense of morality prevailed as spiritualists prescribed work and religious education to soothe the soul.
Erasmus Darling, a rather inept physician, philosopher and scientist and grandfather of Charles Darwin, advocated the “spinning couch” approach.  His idea was that mentally ill just needed a lot of sleep and spinning facilitated that.  He was not taken too seriously, but noted American physician Benjamin Rush adopted that course of action years later.
Not to put too fine a point on it, the mental health profession has come a long way.  However, Republican Newt Gingrich wrote an article entitled, “Mental Illness is No Crime,” and said that “America's approach when the mentally ill commit nonviolent crimes -- locking them up without addressing the problem -- is a solution straight out of the 1800s.”
The Deinstitutionalization of the mentally ill was a good idea that went terribly wrong.  The ideology that led to the criminalization and incarceration of this population came out of the reliance on drugs (Thorazine in particular) in the place of professional care. 
In 1955 Congress created the Joint Commission on Mental Illness and Health that came up with “freeing” mental patients from the constraints of hospitals. A surviving member of that commission later stated that the commission took this ill-fated course of action because of “the sort of overselling that happens in almost every interchange between science and government…Tranquilizers became panaceas.”
The 1961 Action for Mental Health report that came out of the Commission promoted community-based system of “integrated hospital and ambulatory services.”  National professionals as well as philanthropic organizations promoted this idea in medicine, academia and politics.  E. Fuller Torrey said that,  In effect, approximately 92 percent of the people who would have been living in public psychiatric hospitals in 1955 were not living there in 1994.”
In 1963 the Community Mental Health Centers (CMHC) ACT was created under President John F. Kennedy.  This provided subsidies to fund community health care centers.  The Young Minds Advocacy Projected celebrated the 50-year mark of this legislation.
According to them it “helped spark a major transformation of the public mental health system by shifting resources away from large institutions towards community-based mental health treatment programs.” They lauded the strides made in patient rights for the mentally ill, and the creation of community-based alternatives to hospitalization.

I will suggest that that celebration was a bit premature.

President Carter was later applauded for establishing the Carter Commission, the first of its kind, which led to the Mental Health Systems Act. It continued funding for federal community mental health centers.  The Mental Health Systems Act still proved to be shortsighted in that it did not so much as improve care but fix bureaucratic systemic problems.  It also continued funding for federal community mental health centers as well as providing federal grants “for projects for the prevention of mental illness and the promotion of positive mental health.” 

E. F. Torrey credits the goals of Carter’s Commission on Mental Health for being well intentioned in their objectives – “maintaining the greatest degree of freedom, self-determination, autonomy, dignity, and integrity of body, mind, and spirit for the individual while he or she participates in treatment or receives services." He says that this model for treatment has served a significant part of mental health consumers.  But he also says:

“Self-determination" often means merely that the person has a choice of soup kitchens. The "least restrictive setting" frequently turns out to be a cardboard box, a jail cell, or a terror-filled existence plagued by both real and imaginary enemies.

Speaking of “least restrictive settings” and open-air sunshine homelessness, president Ronald Reagan comes to mind. His “new federalism”, a transfer of federal power to the state, effectively threw the mentally ill out of the hospitals and on to the streets with the stroke of a pen.  He said, “People who are sleeping on the grates…the homeless…are homeless, you might say, by choice.”  So not only is it illegal to be sick (as in the prison population), it is a choice.
When Reagan was the Governor of California, the population of state mental health facilities fell from 37,500 in 1959 under Governor Edmund G. Brown, to 22,000 under Reagan.
At that time Dr. Robert Felix, director on the National Institute of Mental Health, had been one of many promoting community care for the mentally ill to replace hospitalization.  He said, however:
''Many of those patients who left the state hospitals never should have done so. We psychiatrists saw too much of the old snake pit, saw too many people who shouldn't have been there and we overreacted. The result is not what we intended, and perhaps we didn't ask the questions that should have been asked when developing a new concept, but psychiatrists are human, too, and we tried our damnedest.''
President Reagan cut the budget of the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) that caused a decrease in professional psychiatric staff and many of the remaining professionals were assigned to menial duties unrelated to patient care.  Under Reagan came the Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act (1982) that merged mental health resources into block grants to the states allowing them discretion as to where they put their dollars.  Many states simply funded existing mental health programs that were already failing.
Reagan, the film actor that became president, is celebrated as a great communicator and Republican Party idol. For the mentally ill, however, he communicated a “let them sleep on the sidewalks” kind of message.  And they did.
But to be fair, we can’t lay blame solely at the clay feet of Reagan. The government was responding to fiscal problems in state hospitals with poor conditions. With the advent of pharmaceuticals to manage clients, mental health professionals began to rely more on drug therapy than clinical care.  Their prescription was that the community could take over where they had failed.  Then community services failed.
Today as a result of America’s persistent recession, things have gotten worse.  According to the National Institute for the Mentally Ill, NAMI, “From 2009 to 2011, massive cuts to non-Medicaid state mental health spending totaled more than $1.8 billion dollars.”

When funds are diverted from services to the mentally ill, jails, law enforcement agencies, homeless shelters and overburdened emergency services in hospitals have to take up the slack.

Dr. Torrey, writing about conditions in the 1990s, said that because civil liberties lawyers won the battle to gain more rights for the mentally ill, it became harder for them to access treatment.  He said, “You either have to kill the judge or attempt suicide before the bench.”  Also he noted that the definition of mental illness had morphed into a conglomerate of maladies, not specific to the mentally ill.

One mental health consumer reveals:

I have schizo-affective disorder. I used to have a caseworker, access to a counselor and group therapy, which were all part of my plan and helped me stay healthy and well. In July of 2010, due to budget cuts, the clinic here in town closed, and they laid off all the staff. I no longer have a case manager and only have peer support once a month, if I am lucky. I don’t know how I will stay well without the medical care and treatment I need.
NAMI is a rigorous advocate for the mentally ill, but they are not alone.  Protection and Advocacy for People with Disabilities, et al, filed a lawsuit against the State of Carolina Department of Corrections.  The judge in the case was Michael Baxley who stated outright that of the 70,000 cases that he has adjudicated, this lawsuit was “the most troubling.”
In his 45-page order he wrote, “Evidence in this case has proved that inmates have died in the S.C. Department of Corrections for lack of basic mental health care,” He said that this negligence had been known for ten years.  Further, he cited the following:
·      there was “disproportionate use of force and solitary confinement”
·      limitation of access to mental health resources that contributed to “substantial risk of serious harm…”
·      supervision of powerful psychotropic drugs was largely unsupervised
·      inadequate treatment records
Attorneys Nelson Mullins, Stuart Andrews and Don Wesbrook said that Judge Baxley basically found “deliberate indifference” of the criminal justice system that amounted to “cruel and unusual punishment” under the state constitution.  The state is appealing.
But the criminal justice system is not the only culprit in this mounting crisis.  The front-line responders to people suffering from a medical illness with social repercussions have become police officers who unwittingly incarcerate the mentally ill who become casualties of the criminal justice system.  Deep funding cuts for this at-risk-population is the complaint not only of consumers, but of law enforcement, as well.
When Gandhi was asked what he thought of civilization he said, “I think it would be a good idea.”  I concur; however, human cruelty is not the primary cause of man’s inhumanity to man or the mental health dilemma.  Would that the poor and sometimes criminal treatment of God’s “least of these” were that simple.  There are many dedicated workers in the mental health care system, but this crisis has many different moving parts.
It is easy for a politically protected middle class of “hard working Americans” to look the other way.  Mental illness and homelessness is a double stigma.  We are all tempted to think of the homeless as lazy ne’er do wells and drunks.  However, on any given winter night there are 76,000 veterans who have served this country sleeping on those “grates” that Ronald Reagan talked about.  One third of the homeless are mentally ill.

Is treatment of the mentally ill insane?  Locking them up in Rikers Island instead of caring for them in hospitals with trained professionals?  It sounds pretty crazy to me.  I just know we can do better.