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Syria

Joint statement on Syria

WFP Executive Director Ertharin Cousin
UNICEF Executive Director Anthony Lake
Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator Stephen O’Brien
WHO Director-General Dr Margaret Chan
United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees Filippo Grandi

While efforts to fully implement a ceasefire in Syria continue, we again appeal for immediate, unconditional, and safe access to reach the children and families who are still cut off from humanitarian aid across the country.

In Syria today, there are 15 besieged areas where up to 700,000 people, including an estimated 300,000 children, still remain trapped. Nearly five million people, including more than two million children, live in areas that are extremely difficult to reach with humanitarian assistance due to fighting, insecurity and restricted access.

All over Syria, people continue to suffer because they lack the most basic elements to sustain their lives — and because of the continued risk of violence. We — indeed, the world — must not stand silent while parties to the conflict continue to use denial of food, water, medical supplies, and other forms of aid as weapons of war.

Children are at heightened risk of malnutrition, dehydration, diarrhea, infectious diseases, and injury. Many need support after being exposed to traumatic events, violence and other violations. Tragically, far too many children have known little but conflict and loss in their young lives.

The horrors of the siege of the eastern districts of Aleppo have disappeared from the public consciousness — but we must not let the needs, the lives and the futures of Syria’s people fade from the world’s conscience.

 

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Reverend King’s last testament of sorts, his final speech in
Memphis, where he went to support striking sanitation workers.

An appreciation of Martin Luther King, Jr.

Two things for people to take to heart:

  • Reverend King was an imperfect man, with some all too common human vices and failings. What made him great was that throughout his too short adult life he stepped forward and led millions of ordinary people to do extraordinary things — good things, necessary things.
  • It is one thing to die for a cause — it can be done in split second, even sometimes never feeling any pain or knowing what hit. It is a much more difficult thing to live for a cause, to put up with all of the tedium, disappointments, disgraces, losses, injuries, embarrassments, heartbreaks and privations involved in a prolonged effort to change social conditions. Reverend King’s martyrdom would not seem like that had he not lived the struggle for peace and justice.

Letter from the Birmingham Jail

April 16, 1963

My Dear Fellow Clergymen:

While confined here in the Birmingham city jail, I came across your recent statement calling my present activities “unwise and untimely.” Seldom do I pause to answer criticism of my work and ideas. If I sought to answer all the criticisms that cross my desk, my secretaries would have little time for anything other than such correspondence in the course of the day, and I would have no time for constructive work. But since I feel that you are men of genuine good will and that your criticisms are sincerely set forth, I want to try to answer your statement in what I hope will be patient and reasonable terms.

I think I should indicate why I am here in Birmingham, since you have been influenced by the view which argues against “outsiders coming in.” I have the honor of serving as president of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, an organization operating in every southern state, with headquarters in Atlanta, Georgia. We have some eighty five affiliated organizations across the South, and one of them is the Alabama Christian Movement for Human Rights. Frequently we share staff, educational and financial resources with our affiliates. Several months ago the affiliate here in Birmingham asked us to be on call to engage in a nonviolent direct action program if such were deemed necessary. We readily consented, and when the hour came we lived up to our promise. So I, along with several members of my staff, am here because I was invited here. I am here because I have organizational ties here.

But more basically, I am in Birmingham because injustice is here. Just as the prophets of the eighth century B.C. left their villages and carried their “thus saith the Lord” far beyond the boundaries of their home towns, and just as the Apostle Paul left his village of Tarsus and carried the gospel of Jesus Christ to the far corners of the Greco Roman world, so am I compelled to carry the gospel of freedom beyond my own home town. Like Paul, I must constantly respond to the Macedonian call for aid.

Moreover, I am cognizant of the interrelatedness of all communities and states. I cannot sit idly by in Atlanta and not be concerned about what happens in Birmingham. Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly. Never again can we afford to live with the narrow, provincial “outside agitator” idea. Anyone who lives inside the United States can never be considered an outsider anywhere within its bounds.

You deplore the demonstrations taking place in Birmingham. But your statement, I am sorry to say, fails to express a similar concern for the conditions that brought about the demonstrations. I am sure that none of you would want to rest content with the superficial kind of social analysis that deals merely with effects and does not grapple with underlying causes. It is unfortunate that demonstrations are taking place in Birmingham, but it is even more unfortunate that the city’s white power structure left the Negro community with no alternative.

In any nonviolent campaign there are four basic steps: collection of the facts to determine whether injustices exist; negotiation; self purification; and direct action. We have gone through all these steps in Birmingham. There can be no gainsaying the fact that racial injustice engulfs this community. Birmingham is probably the most thoroughly segregated city in the United States. Its ugly record of brutality is widely known. Negroes have experienced grossly unjust treatment in the courts. There have been more unsolved bombings of Negro homes and churches in Birmingham than in any other city in the nation. These are the hard, brutal facts of the case. On the basis of these conditions, Negro leaders sought to negotiate with the city fathers. But the latter consistently refused to engage in good faith negotiation.

Then, last September, came the opportunity to talk with leaders of Birmingham’s economic community. In the course of the negotiations, certain promises were made by the merchants–for example, to remove the stores’ humiliating racial signs. On the basis of these promises, the Reverend Fred Shuttlesworth and the leaders of the Alabama Christian Movement for Human Rights agreed to a moratorium on all demonstrations. As the weeks and months went by, we realized that we were the victims of a broken promise. A few signs, briefly removed, returned; the others remained. As in so many past experiences, our hopes had been blasted, and the shadow of deep disappointment settled upon us. We had no alternative except to prepare for direct action, whereby we would present our very bodies as a means of laying our case before the conscience of the local and the national community. Mindful of the difficulties involved, we decided to undertake a process of self purification. We began a series of workshops on nonviolence, and we repeatedly asked ourselves: “Are you able to accept blows without retaliating?” “Are you able to endure the ordeal of jail?” We decided to schedule our direct action program for the Easter season, realizing that except for Christmas, this is the main shopping period of the year. Knowing that a strong economic-withdrawal program would be the by product of direct action, we felt that this would be the best time to bring pressure to bear on the merchants for the needed change.

Then it occurred to us that Birmingham’s mayoral election was coming up in March, and we speedily decided to postpone action until after election day. When we discovered that the Commissioner of Public Safety, Eugene “Bull” Connor, had piled up enough votes to be in the run off, we decided again to postpone action until the day after the run off so that the demonstrations could not be used to cloud the issues. Like many others, we waited to see Mr. Connor defeated, and to this end we endured postponement after postponement. Having aided in this community need, we felt that our direct action program could be delayed no longer.

You may well ask: “Why direct action? Why sit ins, marches and so forth? Isn’t negotiation a better path?” You are quite right in calling for negotiation. Indeed, this is the very purpose of direct action. Nonviolent direct action seeks to create such a crisis and foster such a tension that a community which has constantly refused to negotiate is forced to confront the issue. It seeks so to dramatize the issue that it can no longer be ignored. My citing the creation of tension as part of the work of the nonviolent resister may sound rather shocking. But I must confess that I am not afraid of the word “tension.” I have earnestly opposed violent tension, but there is a type of constructive, nonviolent tension which is necessary for growth. Just as Socrates felt that it was necessary to create a tension in the mind so that individuals could rise from the bondage of myths and half truths to the unfettered realm of creative analysis and objective appraisal, so must we see the need for nonviolent gadflies to create the kind of tension in society that will help men rise from the dark depths of prejudice and racism to the majestic heights of understanding and brotherhood. The purpose of our direct action program is to create a situation so crisis packed that it will inevitably open the door to negotiation. I therefore concur with you in your call for negotiation. Too long has our beloved Southland been bogged down in a tragic effort to live in monologue rather than dialogue.

One of the basic points in your statement is that the action that I and my associates have taken in Birmingham is untimely. Some have asked: “Why didn’t you give the new city administration time to act?” The only answer that I can give to this query is that the new Birmingham administration must be prodded about as much as the outgoing one, before it will act. We are sadly mistaken if we feel that the election of Albert Boutwell as mayor will bring the millennium to Birmingham. While Mr. Boutwell is a much more gentle person than Mr. Connor, they are both segregationists, dedicated to maintenance of the status quo. I have hope that Mr. Boutwell will be reasonable enough to see the futility of massive resistance to desegregation. But he will not see this without pressure from devotees of civil rights. My friends, I must say to you that we have not made a single gain in civil rights without determined legal and nonviolent pressure. Lamentably, it is an historical fact that privileged groups seldom give up their privileges voluntarily. Individuals may see the moral light and voluntarily give up their unjust posture; but, as Reinhold Niebuhr has reminded us, groups tend to be more immoral than individuals.

We know through painful experience that freedom is never voluntarily given by the oppressor; it must be demanded by the oppressed. Frankly, I have yet to engage in a direct action campaign that was “well timed” in the view of those who have not suffered unduly from the disease of segregation. For years now I have heard the word “Wait!” It rings in the ear of every Negro with piercing familiarity. This “Wait” has almost always meant “Never.” We must come to see, with one of our distinguished jurists, that “justice too long delayed is justice denied.”

We have waited for more than 340 years for our constitutional and God given rights. The nations of Asia and Africa are moving with jetlike speed toward gaining political independence, but we still creep at horse and buggy pace toward gaining a cup of coffee at a lunch counter. Perhaps it is easy for those who have never felt the stinging darts of segregation to say, “Wait.” But when you have seen vicious mobs lynch your mothers and fathers at will and drown your sisters and brothers at whim; when you have seen hate filled policemen curse, kick and even kill your black brothers and sisters; when you see the vast majority of your twenty million Negro brothers smothering in an airtight cage of poverty in the midst of an affluent society; when you suddenly find your tongue twisted and your speech stammering as you seek to explain to your six year old daughter why she can’t go to the public amusement park that has just been advertised on television, and see tears welling up in her eyes when she is told that Funtown is closed to colored children, and see ominous clouds of inferiority beginning to form in her little mental sky, and see her beginning to distort her personality by developing an unconscious bitterness toward white people; when you have to concoct an answer for a five year old son who is asking: “Daddy, why do white people treat colored people so mean?”; when you take a cross county drive and find it necessary to sleep night after night in the uncomfortable corners of your automobile because no motel will accept you; when you are humiliated day in and day out by nagging signs reading “white” and “colored”; when your first name becomes “nigger,” your middle name becomes “boy” (however old you are) and your last name becomes “John,” and your wife and mother are never given the respected title “Mrs.”; when you are harried by day and haunted by night by the fact that you are a Negro, living constantly at tiptoe stance, never quite knowing what to expect next, and are plagued with inner fears and outer resentments; when you are forever fighting a degenerating sense of “nobodiness” — then you will understand why we find it difficult to wait. There comes a time when the cup of endurance runs over, and men are no longer willing to be plunged into the abyss of despair. I hope, sirs, you can understand our legitimate and unavoidable impatience. You express a great deal of anxiety over our willingness to break laws. This is certainly a legitimate concern. Since we so diligently urge people to obey the Supreme Court’s decision of 1954 outlawing segregation in the public schools, at first glance it may seem rather paradoxical for us consciously to break laws. One may well ask: “How can you advocate breaking some laws and obeying others?” The answer lies in the fact that there are two types of laws: just and unjust. I would be the first to advocate obeying just laws. One has not only a legal but a moral responsibility to obey just laws. Conversely, one has a moral responsibility to disobey unjust laws. I would agree with St. Augustine that “an unjust law is no law at all.”

Now, what is the difference between the two? How does one determine whether a law is just or unjust? A just law is a man made code that squares with the moral law or the law of God. An unjust law is a code that is out of harmony with the moral law. To put it in the terms of St. Thomas Aquinas: An unjust law is a human law that is not rooted in eternal law and natural law. Any law that uplifts human personality is just. Any law that degrades human personality is unjust. All segregation statutes are unjust because segregation distorts the soul and damages the personality. It gives the segregator a false sense of superiority and the segregated a false sense of inferiority. Segregation, to use the terminology of the Jewish philosopher Martin Buber, substitutes an “I it” relationship for an “I thou” relationship and ends up relegating persons to the status of things. Hence segregation is not only politically, economically and sociologically unsound, it is morally wrong and sinful. Paul Tillich has said that sin is separation. Is not segregation an existential expression of man’s tragic separation, his awful estrangement, his terrible sinfulness? Thus it is that I can urge men to obey the 1954 decision of the Supreme Court, for it is morally right; and I can urge them to disobey segregation ordinances, for they are morally wrong.

Let us consider a more concrete example of just and unjust laws. An unjust law is a code that a numerical or power majority group compels a minority group to obey but does not make binding on itself. This is difference made legal. By the same token, a just law is a code that a majority compels a minority to follow and that it is willing to follow itself. This is sameness made legal. Let me give another explanation. A law is unjust if it is inflicted on a minority that, as a result of being denied the right to vote, had no part in enacting or devising the law. Who can say that the legislature of Alabama which set up that state’s segregation laws was democratically elected? Throughout Alabama all sorts of devious methods are used to prevent Negroes from becoming registered voters, and there are some counties in which, even though Negroes constitute a majority of the population, not a single Negro is registered. Can any law enacted under such circumstances be considered democratically structured?

Sometimes a law is just on its face and unjust in its application. For instance, I have been arrested on a charge of parading without a permit. Now, there is nothing wrong in having an ordinance which requires a permit for a parade. But such an ordinance becomes unjust when it is used to maintain segregation and to deny citizens the First-Amendment privilege of peaceful assembly and protest.

I hope you are able to see the distinction I am trying to point out. In no sense do I advocate evading or defying the law, as would the rabid segregationist. That would lead to anarchy. One who breaks an unjust law must do so openly, lovingly, and with a willingness to accept the penalty. I submit that an individual who breaks a law that conscience tells him is unjust, and who willingly accepts the penalty of imprisonment in order to arouse the conscience of the community over its injustice, is in reality expressing the highest respect for law.

Of course, there is nothing new about this kind of civil disobedience. It was evidenced sublimely in the refusal of Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego to obey the laws of Nebuchadnezzar, on the ground that a higher moral law was at stake. It was practiced superbly by the early Christians, who were willing to face hungry lions and the excruciating pain of chopping blocks rather than submit to certain unjust laws of the Roman Empire. To a degree, academic freedom is a reality today because Socrates practiced civil disobedience. In our own nation, the Boston Tea Party represented a massive act of civil disobedience.

We should never forget that everything Adolf Hitler did in Germany was “legal” and everything the Hungarian freedom fighters did in Hungary was “illegal.” It was “illegal” to aid and comfort a Jew in Hitler’s Germany. Even so, I am sure that, had I lived in Germany at the time, I would have aided and comforted my Jewish brothers. If today I lived in a Communist country where certain principles dear to the Christian faith are suppressed, I would openly advocate disobeying that country’s antireligious laws.

I must make two honest confessions to you, my Christian and Jewish brothers. First, I must confess that over the past few years I have been gravely disappointed with the white moderate. I have almost reached the regrettable conclusion that the Negro’s great stumbling block in his stride toward freedom is not the White Citizen’s Counciler or the Ku Klux Klanner, but the white moderate, who is more devoted to “order” than to justice; who prefers a negative peace which is the absence of tension to a positive peace which is the presence of justice; who constantly says: “I agree with you in the goal you seek, but I cannot agree with your methods of direct action”; who paternalistically believes he can set the timetable for another man’s freedom; who lives by a mythical concept of time and who constantly advises the Negro to wait for a “more convenient season.” Shallow understanding from people of good will is more frustrating than absolute misunderstanding from people of ill will. Lukewarm acceptance is much more bewildering than outright rejection.

I had hoped that the white moderate would understand that law and order exist for the purpose of establishing justice and that when they fail in this purpose they become the dangerously structured dams that block the flow of social progress. I had hoped that the white moderate would understand that the present tension in the South is a necessary phase of the transition from an obnoxious negative peace, in which the Negro passively accepted his unjust plight, to a substantive and positive peace, in which all men will respect the dignity and worth of human personality. Actually, we who engage in nonviolent direct action are not the creators of tension. We merely bring to the surface the hidden tension that is already alive. We bring it out in the open, where it can be seen and dealt with. Like a boil that can never be cured so long as it is covered up but must be opened with all its ugliness to the natural medicines of air and light, injustice must be exposed, with all the tension its exposure creates, to the light of human conscience and the air of national opinion before it can be cured.

In your statement you assert that our actions, even though peaceful, must be condemned because they precipitate violence. But is this a logical assertion? Isn’t this like condemning a robbed man because his possession of money precipitated the evil act of robbery? Isn’t this like condemning Socrates because his unswerving commitment to truth and his philosophical inquiries precipitated the act by the misguided populace in which they made him drink hemlock? Isn’t this like condemning Jesus because his unique God consciousness and never ceasing devotion to God’s will precipitated the evil act of crucifixion? We must come to see that, as the federal courts have consistently affirmed, it is wrong to urge an individual to cease his efforts to gain his basic constitutional rights because the quest may precipitate violence. Society must protect the robbed and punish the robber. I had also hoped that the white moderate would reject the myth concerning time in relation to the struggle for freedom. I have just received a letter from a white brother in Texas. He writes: “All Christians know that the colored people will receive equal rights eventually, but it is possible that you are in too great a religious hurry. It has taken Christianity almost two thousand years to accomplish what it has. The teachings of Christ take time to come to earth.” Such an attitude stems from a tragic misconception of time, from the strangely irrational notion that there is something in the very flow of time that will inevitably cure all ills. Actually, time itself is neutral; it can be used either destructively or constructively. More and more I feel that the people of ill will have used time much more effectively than have the people of good will. We will have to repent in this generation not merely for the hateful words and actions of the bad people but for the appalling silence of the good people. Human progress never rolls in on wheels of inevitability; it comes through the tireless efforts of men willing to be co workers with God, and without this hard work, time itself becomes an ally of the forces of social stagnation. We must use time creatively, in the knowledge that the time is always ripe to do right. Now is the time to make real the promise of democracy and transform our pending national elegy into a creative psalm of brotherhood. Now is the time to lift our national policy from the quicksand of racial injustice to the solid rock of human dignity.

You speak of our activity in Birmingham as extreme. At first I was rather disappointed that fellow clergymen would see my nonviolent efforts as those of an extremist. I began thinking about the fact that I stand in the middle of two opposing forces in the Negro community. One is a force of complacency, made up in part of Negroes who, as a result of long years of oppression, are so drained of self respect and a sense of “somebodiness” that they have adjusted to segregation; and in part of a few middle-class Negroes who, because of a degree of academic and economic security and because in some ways they profit by segregation, have become insensitive to the problems of the masses. The other force is one of bitterness and hatred, and it comes perilously close to advocating violence. It is expressed in the various black nationalist groups that are springing up across the nation, the largest and best known being Elijah Muhammad’s Muslim movement. Nourished by the Negro’s frustration over the continued existence of racial discrimination, this movement is made up of people who have lost faith in America, who have absolutely repudiated Christianity, and who have concluded that the white man is an incorrigible “devil.”

I have tried to stand between these two forces, saying that we need emulate neither the “do nothingism” of the complacent nor the hatred and despair of the black nationalist. For there is the more excellent way of love and nonviolent protest. I am grateful to God that, through the influence of the Negro church, the way of nonviolence became an integral part of our struggle. If this philosophy had not emerged, by now many streets of the South would, I am convinced, be flowing with blood. And I am further convinced that if our white brothers dismiss as “rabble rousers” and “outside agitators” those of us who employ nonviolent direct action, and if they refuse to support our nonviolent efforts, millions of Negroes will, out of frustration and despair, seek solace and security in black nationalist ideologies–a development that would inevitably lead to a frightening racial nightmare.

Oppressed people cannot remain oppressed forever. The yearning for freedom eventually manifests itself, and that is what has happened to the American Negro. Something within has reminded him of his birthright of freedom, and something without has reminded him that it can be gained. Consciously or unconsciously, he has been caught up by the Zeitgeist, and with his black brothers of Africa and his brown and yellow brothers of Asia, South America and the Caribbean, the United States Negro is moving with a sense of great urgency toward the promised land of racial justice. If one recognizes this vital urge that has engulfed the Negro community, one should readily understand why public demonstrations are taking place. The Negro has many pent up resentments and latent frustrations, and he must release them. So let him march; let him make prayer pilgrimages to the city hall; let him go on freedom rides -and try to understand why he must do so. If his repressed emotions are not released in nonviolent ways, they will seek expression through violence; this is not a threat but a fact of history. So I have not said to my people: “Get rid of your discontent.” Rather, I have tried to say that this normal and healthy discontent can be channeled into the creative outlet of nonviolent direct action. And now this approach is being termed extremist. But though I was initially disappointed at being categorized as an extremist, as I continued to think about the matter I gradually gained a measure of satisfaction from the label. Was not Jesus an extremist for love: “Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you.” Was not Amos an extremist for justice: “Let justice roll down like waters and righteousness like an ever flowing stream.” Was not Paul an extremist for the Christian gospel: “I bear in my body the marks of the Lord Jesus.” Was not Martin Luther an extremist: “Here I stand; I cannot do otherwise, so help me God.” And John Bunyan: “I will stay in jail to the end of my days before I make a butchery of my conscience.” And Abraham Lincoln: “This nation cannot survive half slave and half free.” And Thomas Jefferson: “We hold these truths to be self evident, that all men are created equal . . .” So the question is not whether we will be extremists, but what kind of extremists we will be. Will we be extremists for hate or for love? Will we be extremists for the preservation of injustice or for the extension of justice? In that dramatic scene on Calvary’s hill three men were crucified. We must never forget that all three were crucified for the same crime–the crime of extremism. Two were extremists for immorality, and thus fell below their environment. The other, Jesus Christ, was an extremist for love, truth and goodness, and thereby rose above his environment. Perhaps the South, the nation and the world are in dire need of creative extremists.

I had hoped that the white moderate would see this need. Perhaps I was too optimistic; perhaps I expected too much. I suppose I should have realized that few members of the oppressor race can understand the deep groans and passionate yearnings of the oppressed race, and still fewer have the vision to see that injustice must be rooted out by strong, persistent and determined action. I am thankful, however, that some of our white brothers in the South have grasped the meaning of this social revolution and committed themselves to it. They are still all too few in quantity, but they are big in quality. Some -such as Ralph McGill, Lillian Smith, Harry Golden, James McBride Dabbs, Ann Braden and Sarah Patton Boyle–have written about our struggle in eloquent and prophetic terms. Others have marched with us down nameless streets of the South. They have languished in filthy, roach infested jails, suffering the abuse and brutality of policemen who view them as “dirty nigger-lovers.” Unlike so many of their moderate brothers and sisters, they have recognized the urgency of the moment and sensed the need for powerful “action” antidotes to combat the disease of segregation. Let me take note of my other major disappointment. I have been so greatly disappointed with the white church and its leadership. Of course, there are some notable exceptions. I am not unmindful of the fact that each of you has taken some significant stands on this issue. I commend you, Reverend Stallings, for your Christian stand on this past Sunday, in welcoming Negroes to your worship service on a nonsegregated basis. I commend the Catholic leaders of this state for integrating Spring Hill College several years ago.

But despite these notable exceptions, I must honestly reiterate that I have been disappointed with the church. I do not say this as one of those negative critics who can always find something wrong with the church. I say this as a minister of the gospel, who loves the church; who was nurtured in its bosom; who has been sustained by its spiritual blessings and who will remain true to it as long as the cord of life shall lengthen.

When I was suddenly catapulted into the leadership of the bus protest in Montgomery, Alabama, a few years ago, I felt we would be supported by the white church. I felt that the white ministers, priests and rabbis of the South would be among our strongest allies. Instead, some have been outright opponents, refusing to understand the freedom movement and misrepresenting its leaders; all too many others have been more cautious than courageous and have remained silent behind the anesthetizing security of stained glass windows.

In spite of my shattered dreams, I came to Birmingham with the hope that the white religious leadership of this community would see the justice of our cause and, with deep moral concern, would serve as the channel through which our just grievances could reach the power structure. I had hoped that each of you would understand. But again I have been disappointed.

I have heard numerous southern religious leaders admonish their worshipers to comply with a desegregation decision because it is the law, but I have longed to hear white ministers declare: “Follow this decree because integration is morally right and because the Negro is your brother.” In the midst of blatant injustices inflicted upon the Negro, I have watched white churchmen stand on the sideline and mouth pious irrelevancies and sanctimonious trivialities. In the midst of a mighty struggle to rid our nation of racial and economic injustice, I have heard many ministers say: “Those are social issues, with which the gospel has no real concern.” And I have watched many churches commit themselves to a completely other worldly religion which makes a strange, un-Biblical distinction between body and soul, between the sacred and the secular.

I have traveled the length and breadth of Alabama, Mississippi and all the other southern states. On sweltering summer days and crisp autumn mornings I have looked at the South’s beautiful churches with their lofty spires pointing heavenward. I have beheld the impressive outlines of her massive religious education buildings. Over and over I have found myself asking: “What kind of people worship here? Who is their God? Where were their voices when the lips of Governor Barnett dripped with words of interposition and nullification? Where were they when Governor Wallace gave a clarion call for defiance and hatred? Where were their voices of support when bruised and weary Negro men and women decided to rise from the dark dungeons of complacency to the bright hills of creative protest?”

Yes, these questions are still in my mind. In deep disappointment I have wept over the laxity of the church. But be assured that my tears have been tears of love. There can be no deep disappointment where there is not deep love. Yes, I love the church. How could I do otherwise? I am in the rather unique position of being the son, the grandson and the great grandson of preachers. Yes, I see the church as the body of Christ. But, oh! How we have blemished and scarred that body through social neglect and through fear of being nonconformists.

There was a time when the church was very powerful–in the time when the early Christians rejoiced at being deemed worthy to suffer for what they believed. In those days the church was not merely a thermometer that recorded the ideas and principles of popular opinion; it was a thermostat that transformed the mores of society. Whenever the early Christians entered a town, the people in power became disturbed and immediately sought to convict the Christians for being “disturbers of the peace” and “outside agitators.”‘ But the Christians pressed on, in the conviction that they were “a colony of heaven,” called to obey God rather than man. Small in number, they were big in commitment. They were too God-intoxicated to be “astronomically intimidated.” By their effort and example they brought an end to such ancient evils as infanticide and gladiatorial contests. Things are different now. So often the contemporary church is a weak, ineffectual voice with an uncertain sound. So often it is an archdefender of the status quo. Far from being disturbed by the presence of the church, the power structure of the average community is consoled by the church’s silent — and often even vocal–sanction of things as they are.

But the judgment of God is upon the church as never before. If today’s church does not recapture the sacrificial spirit of the early church, it will lose its authenticity, forfeit the loyalty of millions, and be dismissed as an irrelevant social club with no meaning for the twentieth century. Every day I meet young people whose disappointment with the church has turned into outright disgust.

Perhaps I have once again been too optimistic. Is organized religion too inextricably bound to the status quo to save our nation and the world? Perhaps I must turn my faith to the inner spiritual church, the church within the church, as the true ekklesia and the hope of the world. But again I am thankful to God that some noble souls from the ranks of organized religion have broken loose from the paralyzing chains of conformity and joined us as active partners in the struggle for freedom. They have left their secure congregations and walked the streets of Albany, Georgia, with us. They have gone down the highways of the South on tortuous rides for freedom. Yes, they have gone to jail with us. Some have been dismissed from their churches, have lost the support of their bishops and fellow ministers. But they have acted in the faith that right defeated is stronger than evil triumphant. Their witness has been the spiritual salt that has preserved the true meaning of the gospel in these troubled times. They have carved a tunnel of hope through the dark mountain of disappointment. I hope the church as a whole will meet the challenge of this decisive hour. But even if the church does not come to the aid of justice, I have no despair about the future. I have no fear about the outcome of our struggle in Birmingham, even if our motives are at present misunderstood. We will reach the goal of freedom in Birmingham and all over the nation, because the goal of America is freedom. Abused and scorned though we may be, our destiny is tied up with America’s destiny. Before the pilgrims landed at Plymouth, we were here. Before the pen of Jefferson etched the majestic words of the Declaration of Independence across the pages of history, we were here. For more than two centuries our forebears labored in this country without wages; they made cotton king; they built the homes of their masters while suffering gross injustice and shameful humiliation — and yet out of a bottomless vitality they continued to thrive and develop. If the inexpressible cruelties of slavery could not stop us, the opposition we now face will surely fail. We will win our freedom because the sacred heritage of our nation and the eternal will of God are embodied in our echoing demands. Before closing I feel impelled to mention one other point in your statement that has troubled me profoundly. You warmly commended the Birmingham police force for keeping “order” and “preventing violence.” I doubt that you would have so warmly commended the police force if you had seen its dogs sinking their teeth into unarmed, nonviolent Negroes. I doubt that you would so quickly commend the policemen if you were to observe their ugly and inhumane treatment of Negroes here in the city jail; if you were to watch them push and curse old Negro women and young Negro girls; if you were to see them slap and kick old Negro men and young boys; if you were to observe them, as they did on two occasions, refuse to give us food because we wanted to sing our grace together. I cannot join you in your praise of the Birmingham police department.

It is true that the police have exercised a degree of discipline in handling the demonstrators. In this sense they have conducted themselves rather “nonviolently” in public. But for what purpose? To preserve the evil system of segregation. Over the past few years I have consistently preached that nonviolence demands that the means we use must be as pure as the ends we seek. I have tried to make clear that it is wrong to use immoral means to attain moral ends. But now I must affirm that it is just as wrong, or perhaps even more so, to use moral means to preserve immoral ends. Perhaps Mr. Connor and his policemen have been rather nonviolent in public, as was Chief Pritchett in Albany, Georgia, but they have used the moral means of nonviolence to maintain the immoral end of racial injustice. As T. S. Eliot has said: “The last temptation is the greatest treason: To do the right deed for the wrong reason.”

I wish you had commended the Negro sit inners and demonstrators of Birmingham for their sublime courage, their willingness to suffer and their amazing discipline in the midst of great provocation. One day the South will recognize its real heroes. They will be the James Merediths, with the noble sense of purpose that enables them to face jeering and hostile mobs, and with the agonizing loneliness that characterizes the life of the pioneer. They will be old, oppressed, battered Negro women, symbolized in a seventy two year old woman in Montgomery, Alabama, who rose up with a sense of dignity and with her people decided not to ride segregated buses, and who responded with ungrammatical profundity to one who inquired about her weariness: “My feets is tired, but my soul is at rest.” They will be the young high school and college students, the young ministers of the gospel and a host of their elders, courageously and nonviolently sitting in at lunch counters and willingly going to jail for conscience’ sake. One day the South will know that when these disinherited children of God sat down at lunch counters, they were in reality standing up for what is best in the American dream and for the most sacred values in our Judaeo Christian heritage, thereby bringing our nation back to those great wells of democracy which were dug deep by the founding fathers in their formulation of the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence.

Never before have I written so long a letter. I’m afraid it is much too long to take your precious time. I can assure you that it would have been much shorter if I had been writing from a comfortable desk, but what else can one do when he is alone in a narrow jail cell, other than write long letters, think long thoughts and pray long prayers?

If I have said anything in this letter that overstates the truth and indicates an unreasonable impatience, I beg you to forgive me. If I have said anything that understates the truth and indicates my having a patience that allows me to settle for anything less than brotherhood, I beg God to forgive me.

I hope this letter finds you strong in the faith. I also hope that circumstances will soon make it possible for me to meet each of you, not as an integrationist or a civil-rights leader but as a fellow clergyman and a Christian brother. Let us all hope that the dark clouds of racial prejudice will soon pass away and the deep fog of misunderstanding will be lifted from our fear drenched communities, and in some not too distant tomorrow the radiant stars of love and brotherhood will shine over our great nation with all their scintillating beauty.

Yours for the cause of Peace and Brotherhood,
Martin Luther King, Jr.

 

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achiote
Achiote. The red seeds from inside these hairy pods give a mild flavor and color to rice and chicken.

Early dry season crops

photos by Eric Jackson

With climate change some things are coming in late this year. Not shown, it’s a time for melons and grapefruit, and some flower buds are forming on cashew trees. Something is always in season in Panama.

 

yuca
Yuca, a root crop. These were started rather late in last year’s growing season due to the El Niño drought, and instead of digging up the roots they will be allowed to get bigger so that the stalks can be cut up and planted when the rains come again in April or so — that’s how you propagate this most important Panamanian food crop.

 

bananas
Bananas, the “square” kind, said to be “Chinese.” Just about anything other than the usual tends to get called Chinese in Panama. In any case, the conventional commercial bananas, the Cavendish family of clones, are being wiped out by a worldwide blight but there are other sorts of bananas that will replace them. These plants don’t have the preferred ripening time, the number of fruit per stem and other characteristics to make them commercially preferable. You don’t need to take into account all of the commercial calculations to supplement your lifestyle by growing bananas to eat.

 

jalapeños
Jalapeño peppers, which are not the most preferred variety in Panama. These are called “mild,” but as the rains let up the peppers that are picked in the dry months are noticeably hotter than the produce of the same plants during the rainy season.

 

limes
Limes, one of many varieties in Panama. We have Mediterranean fruit flies (Ceratitis capitata) here, which provide a ready made excuse to keep Panamanian citrus fruits off of the US market. The insects might be eradicated, but surely some other excuse would be found. If you don’t want to grow your food in a toxic chemical broth, insects and other pests will take their toll of what you grow in Panama. It it’s not a cash crop on which you depend it’s usually no big deal, but a medfly infestation will give you a lot of limes — or other fruit — that have little holes in them and maggots growing inside. These pests attack many fruits and vegetables and in Panama seem to do their most ubiquitous damage to mango trees that are not sprayed for commercial management.

 

guandu.
Guandu, also sometimes called pigeon peas. These are legumes that grow on a bush and a major source of protein in the diet of rural Panamanians of scant means. Because these are legumes the bushes are also good for fixing nitrogen in the reclamation of degraded soils, if taking a piece of land with no topsoil and making it grow things is your project. Rice with coconut milk and/or shredded coconut and guandu is a typical Panamanian recipe. Arroz con pollo where there isn’t a lot of chicken meat to put in the pot but enough to flavor it, along with some achiote to give it color and guandu to provide protein is another staple dish here. This past year’s drought has driven the price of guandu way up.

 

otoes
Otoes, known in other places as taro, are one of the several starchy tuber food staples of Panamanian cuisine. There are, however, weird hippie farmers who leave the roots in the ground and cut off the leaves now and then to eat as vegetables. If not watered the plants will go dormant in the dry season and come back with the rains.

 

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Danilo and Esperanza
Danilo Pérez and Esperanza Spalding at the 2017 Panama Jazz Festival. Photo by Eric Jackson.

Panagringo dry season free form

Musical Youth – Young Generation

 
Lord Panama – Fire in San Miguel

 
Monchy y Alexandra – Dos Locos

 
Joss Stone – Bruised But Not Broken

 
Shakira & Maluma – Chantaje

 
Big Mama Thornton & Muddy Waters – Everything Gonna Be Alright

 
Séptima Raíz – De frente con Jah

 
Belinda Carlisle – Heaven Is A Place On Earth

 
Zahara – Loliwe

 
Barcelona Gipsy Klezmer Orchestra – Djelem Djelem

 
Rubén Blades – País Portatil

 
Bruce Springsteen – Hunter Of Invisible Game

 
Hello Seahorse! – Frontera

 
Esperanza Spalding – On The Sunny Side Of The Street

 
Enrique Bunbury – Concierto Teatro Barceló Madrid en 2016

 

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Mafia families with roots in the former Soviet Union have established major bases in Brooklyn, Atlanta, South Florida and Southern California. Russian mobsters are also to be found in London and Toronto. — and in Panama. Under Varela’s Decree 591, any member of this criminal underworld who has obtained a residemcy or multiple entry visa for the USA, the UK, Canada or Australia is welcome in Panama, few questions asked. The graphic is an auto sticker seen in the United States.

Panama cedes visa vetting to four countries

by Eric Jackson

On January 13 Executive Decree 591 was published in the Gaceta Oficial, the second change in immigration policies promulgated by the Varela administration in less than a week. It allows those from countries which require a visa to enter Panama to come to this country without a visa and without the need to obtain a tourist visa if they have a resident or multiple entry visa to the United States, the United Kingdom, Canada or Australia. This change in Panama’s immigration regulations has already been misrepresented by some media and at least one foreign embassy. It does NOT waive tourist and residency visa requirements for US, UK, Canadian or Australian citizens — only for citizens of third countries who have been vetted for the right sorts of visas in those countries.

To get this free pass into Panama the visa for one or more of those four countries must have at least one years’ validity left on it and the person must have actually set foot in the country that issued the visa. Colombia and a number of other Latin American countries have reciprocal agreements that waive the requirement to previously obtain a visa before entering Panama, so the new decree does not affect citizens of those countries. Russian and Chinese citizens, and people from most of the Caribbean nations, will come under the protection of the new decree.

In its argument justifying the new decree, the Varela administration pleads that it needs to better direct its immigration control resources and “that friendly nations with which Panama has established strong ties of cooperation with respect to the problems of migration control … have established systems of migratory vigilance and control with elevated standards of security and trustworthiness.” That notion is quite controversial within the United States and the United Kingdom, where anti-immigrant politics are flourishing, often on the basis of fictitious or exaggerated stories but also sometimes fed by tales of the actual admission of foreign criminals into those countries by their immigration authorities.

Canada, it seems, has a foreign policy of often accepting and encouraging the emigration of its own criminal element to Panama. When Canadian career criminal Monte Friesner used the Panamanian courts to strike back at press criticism, the Canadian Embassy here considered that it was not their concern. Similarly, when former British Columbia lawyer Mary Sloane — allowed to resign from the bar when caught stealing from a client — ran a pyramid scheme in Panama whose victims were mostly Canadians living here, Panamanian authorities refused to act because the victims were foreigners and the Canadian Embassy refused to take a position because it was something that happened in Panama. While a hit man for the Montreal chapter of the Hells Angels was extradited from his Coronado refuge, Panama has been a dumping ground for Canadian pedophile priests and stock swindlers without much apparent concern in Ottawa. But Canadians have embraced multicultural ideals to a much greater extent than the British and Americans have, such that anti-immigration agitation is very much a fringe cause there.

The decree makes those foreigners with European Union visas subject to the same sorts of tourist and visa requirements that apply to US citizens — or can be more onerous, depending on the countries of origin of such persons. Cubans, Dominicans and Haitians with US green cards will have easier access to Panama than do American citizens.

Read the decree in its Spanish original here.

 

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Odebrecht
Odebrecht projects in Panama. Graphic by criminals.

Anti-corruption movement rejects Attorney General Porcell’s deal with Odebrecht

by the Citizens Committee Against Impunity

In consideration of the alarming events that have shaken our nation in the past weeks, we citizens of the Republic of Panama, signatories of this declaration, have constituted the Citizens Committee Against Impunity and hereby:

  1. Denounce the illegitimacy and illegality of the unilateral “agreement” announced by the Attorney General’s office, as there is not a single norm or regulation that supports these forms of “verbal agreements,” as well as the fact that it impedes prosecution fo the crimes committed.
  2. Demand complete adherence and compliance of the Public Ministry and the Comptroller General’s office to the laws ratified by International Anti-corruption Conventions, in regards to any action by Constructora Odebrecht, its representatives and partners.
  3. Demand that the total amount of property losses to the Republic of Panama for each of the construction projects executed and to be executed in the future (as well as the totals amounts related to amendments, overpricing, and over-costs), as well as the names of the persons — natural or juridical — including banks and financial institutions who were and are complicit and involved in such illegal acts against the national treasury, together with Constructora Odebrecht, its local and international affiliates, are made public.
  4. Demand a thorough official investigation of the administrations of Martín Torrijos Espino, Ricardo Martinelli Berrocal and current president Juan Carlos Varela Rodríguez.
  5. Demand that all executive, legislative, judiciary, and municipal officials in service during the years in which Constructora Odebrecht and its affiliates bid for government contracts are thoroughly investigated.
  6. Demand that the Attorney General, the Electoral Tribuna, the Tax Court, the General Revenue Office (DGI), the Financial Analysis Unit (UAF) — and any other entity whose nature and activities can assist in the investigation of those responsible — make public the extent of the damages and the identities of those responsible, and that they immediately take the necessary measures allowed by law to prosecute them.
  7. Demand that the Electoral Tribunal to make public — without further delay and excuses — the names of all the candidates for president, legislator, representante and mayor who received campaign contributinos from Odebrecht, its partners and/or its associates.
  8. Demand that the executive immediately terminate all government contracts with Odebrecht, its affiliates and companies. We demand the immediate and permanent ban of Odebrecht, and any of its companies being allowed to bid for contracts in the Republic of Panama. We demand the confiscation of all of Odebrecht’s assets in Panama.
  9. Demand the Public Ministry designate Odebrecht as an Agent of Corruption, and that they be fined an amount equivalent to 10 percent of the total cost of the all the contracts illicitilly awarded to them during the past three government administrations, just as other nations (Brazil, Colombia, Ecuador, Peru, and the United States) have done.
  10. Urge citizens to make use of any and all available means to remain alert and denounce the goverment’s blatant involvement with Odebrecht and its efforts to conceal and dismiss what is one of the most alarming cases of local and international corruption. We demand that the millions of dollars stolen and paid in bribes to government officials be returned to the Panamanian people, and that those responsible be criminally charged and brought to justice for crimes against the people and the dignity of this land.
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ellos
El gobierno de Varela por Roberto Roy, Odebrecht por Marcos Tepedino.

Contra la impunidad de Odebrecht y sus cómplices

por la Comisión de Ciudadanos contra la Impunidad

Frente a los bochornosos acontecimientos que han conmovido nuestro país en los últimos días, los ciudadanos que nos hemos constituído en Comisión de Ciudadanos contra la Impunidad, firmamos este comunicado y exigimos de nuestras autoridades lo siguiente:

  1. Denunciar la ilegitimidad e ilegalidad del “Acuerdo” anunciado por la Procuraduría General de la Nación, dado que NO existe norma alguna que ampare ese tipo de “acuerdos verbales,” ni que permita prescribir los delitos cometidos.
  2. Exigimos un apego absoluto, por parte del Ministerio Público y la Contraloría General de la República, a lo que establecen las Leyes que han ratificado las Convenciones Internacionales contra la Corrupción, respecto a cualquier acción que pretenda llevar a cabo la empresa Constructora Odebrecht, sus representantes y sus sociedades.
  3. Hacer de conocimiento público, tanto el monto total de la lesión patrimonial a la República de Panamá desglosado en cada uno de los proyectos ejecutados y por ejecutar (Además de las adendas, sobreprecios y sobrecostos), así como los nombres de las personas — naturales o jurídicas — incluyendo los bancos y entidades fnancieras, que hayan participado en actos ilícitos contra el Patrimonio Nacional, con esta empresa y sus filiales locales e internacionales.
  4. Efectuar todas las pesquisas pertinentes durante las administraciones de Martín Torrijos Espino, Ricardo Martinelli Berrocal y Juan Carlos Varela Rodríguez.
  5. Igualmente exigimos que las investigaciones abarquen también a los miembros del Ejecutivo, Legislativo, Judicial y municipal durante los años en que Constructora Odebrecht y sus filiales participaron en licitaciones en nuestro país.
  6. Exigir a la Contraloría General de la República, el Tribunal Electoral, el Tribunal de Cuentas, Dirección General de Ingreso (DGI), Unidad de Análisis Financiero (UAF) – amén de cualquier otra entidad cuya competencia ayude a deslindar responsabilidades – para poder definir el alcance del daño y los responsables de los mismos, como proceder de inmediato con las acciones que establece la Ley.
  7. Exigir al Tribunal Electoral que de a conocer, sin más excusas, todos los nombres de los candidatos presidenciales, Diputados, representantes de Corregimiento, Alcaldes que recibieron apoyo electoral de parte de Odebrecht y/o de sus sociedades o empleados.
  8. Exigir al Ejecutivo la rescisión inmediata de todos los contratos con Odebrecht y sus sociedades, solicitar su salida inmediata del pais, no permitirle a ninguna de sus empresas licitar en Panamá y la cautelación de todos sus bienes localmente.
  9. Exigir al Ministerio Público que lo encause como agente corruptor, que se le imponga una multa del 10% del total del monto que obtuvo por todas las obras realizadas en los últimos tres Gobiernos, como lo hacen Brasil, Colombia, Ecuador, Perú y USA.
  10. Hacer un llamado a la ciudadanía para que utilicemos TODOS los medios a nuestro alcance para mantener la alerta ciudadana y denuniar permanentemente lo que ocurre con Odebrecht, hasta que devuelvan lo miles de millones robados y coimeados y sean condenaos por su agresión a la dignidad nacional.

 

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Uri
Uri Avnery, 93, is an elder statesman of the Israeli peace movement. A refugee from Nazi Germany, he was wounded in combat during the Israeli war for independence and served in the Knessett from 1964 to 1975 and again from 1979 to 1981. Photo by Gush Shalom.

Confessions of a megalomaniac

by Uri Avnery — Gush Shalom

The Arab taxi driver who brought me to Ramallah had no trouble with the Israeli border posts. He just evaded them.

Saves a lot of trouble.

I was invited by Mahmood Abbas, the President of the Palestinian National Authority (as well as of the PLO and the Fatah movement) to take part in joint Palestinian-Israeli consultations in advance of the international conference in Paris.

Since Binyamin Netanyahu has refused to take part in the Paris event side by side with Mahmood Abbas, the Ramallah meeting was to demonstrate that a large part of Israeli society does support the French initiative.

Simple as it sounds, the Ramallah meeting was not simple at all.

Before the death of Yasser Arafat in 2004, such meetings were almost routine. Since our groundbreaking first meeting in Beirut in 1982, during the Israeli blockade, Arafat met many Israelis.

Arafat had almost absolute moral authority, and even his home-grown rivals accepted his judgment. Since, after our first meeting, he decided that Israeli-Palestinian meetings served the cause of Palestinian-Israeli peace, he encouraged many such events.

After his murder, the opposite trend gained the upper hand. Palestinian extremists held that any meetings with Israelis, whoever they might be, served “normalization” — a terrible, terrible bogeyman.

Abbas has now put an end to this nonsense. Like me, he believes that Palestinian statehood and independence can come about only through a joint struggle of the peace forces on both sides, with the help of international forces.

In this spirit, he invited us to Ramallah, since Palestinians are not normally allowed into Israeli territory.

He seated me next to him on the stage, and so the meeting started.

Mahmood Abbas — or “Abu Mazen.” as he is generally known — was gracious enough to mention that he and I have been friends for 34 years since we first met in Tunis, soon after the PLO had left Beirut and moved there.

Through a number of years, when my friends and I came to Tunis, the same procedure was followed: first we met with Abu Mazen, who was in charge of Israeli affairs, and drew up plans for joint action. Then we all moved to Arafat’s office. Arafat, who had an almost canny capacity for making quick decisions, would decide within minutes “yes” or ‘no.”

There could hardly be two more different characters than Abu-Amar (Arafat) and Abu-Mazen. Arafat was a “warm” type. He embraced and kissed his visitors in the old Arab style — a kiss on each cheek for ordinary visitors, three kisses for preferred ones. After five minutes, you felt as if you had known him all your life.

Mahmood Abbas is a much more reserved person. He embraces and kisses too, but it does not come quite as naturally as with Arafat. He is more withdrawn. He looks more like a high-school principal.

I have a lot of respect for Mahmood Abbas. He needs tremendous courage to do his job — the leader of a people under brutal military occupation, compelled to cooperate with the occupation in some matters, endeavoring to resist in others. The aim of his people is to endure and survive. He is good at that.

When I complimented him on his courage, he laughed and said that it was more courageous of me to enter Beirut during the siege of 1982. Thanks.

The Israeli government succeeded, even before Netanyahu, in splitting the Palestinians in the country into two. By the simple device of refusing to honor their solemn pledge under Oslo to create four “safe passages” between The West Bank and Gaza, they made a split almost inevitable.

Now, while officially treating the moderate Abbas as a friend and the extremist Hamas in Gaza as an enemy, our government behaves exactly the other way. Hamas is tolerated, Abbas is considered an enemy. That seems perverse but is really quite logical: Abbas can sway public opinion throughout the world in favor of a Palestinian state, Hamas cannot.

After the Ramallah meeting, in a private session, I submitted to Abbas a plan for consideration.

It is based on the appreciation that Netanyahu will never agree to real peace negotiations, since these will lead inevitably to the Two-state solution, tut-tut-tut.

I propose to convene a “Popular Peace Conference,” which will meet, say, once a month inside the country. In each session, the conference will deal with one of the paragraphs of the future peace agreement, such as the final location of the borders, the character of the borders (open?), Jerusalem, Gaza, water resources, security arrangements, refugees, and so on.

An equal number of experts and activists from each side will deliberate, put everything on the table and thrash it all out. If agreement can be reached, wonderful. If not, the proposals of both sides will be clearly defined and the item left for later.

In the end, after, say, half a year, the final “popular peace agreement” will be published, even with defined disagreements, for the guidance of the peace movements on both sides. Deliberations on the disagreements will continue until agreement is found.

Abbas listened attentively, as is his wont, and in the end I promised to send him a written memorandum. I just did so, after consulting with some of my colleagues, like Adam Keller, the Gush Shalom spokesman.

Mahmood Abbas is now preparing to attend the Paris conference, the official aim of which is to mobilize the world for the Two-state solution.

Sometimes i wonder how I do not get infected with megalomania. (Some of my friends believe that this cannot happen to me, since I already am a megalomaniac.)

A few weeks after the end of the 1948 war, a tiny group of young people in the new State of Israel met in Haifa to debate a path to peace based on what is now called the two-state solution. One was a Jew (me), one a Muslim and one a Druze. I, just released from hospital, was still wearing my army uniform.

The group was completely ignored by everybody. No takers.

Some ten years later, when I was already a member of the Knesset (as, by the way, were the other two), I went abroad to see who could be convinced. I wandered around Washington DC, met with important people in the White House, the State Department and the UN delegations in New York. On the way home I was received in the Foreign Offices in London, Paris and Berlin.

No takers, anywhere. A Palestinian state? Nonsense. Israel must deal with Egypt, Jordan et al.

I made many dozens of speeches about this proposal in the Knesset. Some powers started to take it up. The first was the Soviet Union, though rather late, under Leonid Brezhnev (1969). Others followed.

Today there is no one around who believes in anything but the two-state solution. Even Netanyahu pretends to believe in it, if only the Palestinians would become Jews or emigrate to Greenland.

Yes, I know that I didn’t do it. History did it. But I might be excused for feeling just a tiny little bit of pride. Or a mini-megalomania.

The two-state solution is neither good nor bad. It is the only.

The only solution there is.

I know that there are a number of good, even admirable people who believe in the so-called one-state solution. I would ask them to consider the details: what it would look like, how it would actually function — the army, the police, the economy, the parliament.

Apartheid? Perpetual civil war?

No. Since 1948 everything has changed, but nothing has changed.

Sorry, the two-state solution is still the only game in town.

 

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A decree signed in late December but published on January 10 changes regulations but not the law.

Varela shortens tourist stays and residency processing period but rejects PRD extremes

by Eric Jackson

In the face of virulent xenophobia and proposals of draconian changes to Panama’s immigration laws, President Varela has tightened up a couple of the regulations that implement the existing laws, without touching the laws themselves. In 2010 the Martinelli administration lengthened the stay on a tourist visa from three months to six months, and the current administration has moved it back to three months. Those applying for resident or pensionado visas used to be able to stay for a year while the paperwork was underway. Now it’s six months and such folks have to pay $50 for the temporary ID card that goes with that status. In the decree adjusting these regulations, the reduction in waiting time for a resident’s or pensioner’s visa it is said that these days it doesn’t take more than six months to process the paperwork.

The decree appears to be at least partly aimed at heading off proposals by PRD legislators Elias Castillo and Zulay Rodríguez, which the deputies have described but which have not been published. They would shorten tourist visas to 30 days and allow only one return, ending legal “permanent tourism” and curbing many other sorts of tourism as well. They would also require tourists to register with and stay at hotels, and if found not to be staying at the hotels where they said that they would stay would subject them to arrest.

Rodríguez is quite open about wanting to prohibit foreigners, tourists or otherwise. She and her followers vilify all foreigners as criminals, spitting special venom at Venezuelans and Colombians but attacking the North Americans and Europeans who come here as well. Will she try to ride this campaign in to the presidency in 2019? Her problem with changing the immigration laws, beyond the damage that they would do to the Panamanian economy, is that her colleagues by and large can’t stand her and hesitate to do anything that would boost her politician fortunes. Although she was recently elected to head the women’s branch of the Democratic Revolutionary Party, many of her fellow PRD deputies also disdain her. For example, Rodríguez has charged another PRD legislator, Javier “Patacón” Ortega, with criminal defamation for describing her as “a person with mental problems, a crazy schizophrenic.” Across the aisle, Panameñista deputy Popi Varela — the president’s brother — said that “what comes from her mouth is trash.” Trash talk does, however, have a substantial following.

Let’s brush away the semantics and the fake news. “Permanent tourists” are a species of residents who live in Panama on tourist visas, leaving every so often and then returning on new visas. This is legal. There may be some who come here to commit crimes — which is illegal — but these are a small minority. The great majority of crimes committed in Panama are committed by Panamanians. Most foreigners in Panama do their best to avoid trouble.

Like standard tourists, the permanent tourists spend money in the Panamanian economy. Many rent or buy or build homes — which is legal. Some start businesses — which is generally legal. Many work for somebody else — which is generally illegal. Many hire Panamanians — which is legal and encouraged.

Why does somebody live the life of a permanent tourist here? Most would get resident or pensionado visas but can’t show enough of the accepted sorts of wealth or income to qualify. Some have criminal records that would bar them from residency. Some are hiding from creditors elsewhere. Generally they have to show a plane ticket back to the country from whence they came to get in as a tourist, such that if they come upon hard times or illness they are sent back to be some other country’s burden.

“Tourism,” whether of a traditional kind or thinly disguised residency, is big business here, more than seven percent of the Panamanian economy. Rich white people staying in expensive hotels? That’s the stereotypical ideal, which, judging from the occupancy rates of hotels that chase that market segment, is except for a few weeks per year a failure. Niche markets — young backpackers without much money, but who may come back in a few years when they have more money to spend, or people of the Panamanian diaspora who come back to visit family and friends and don’t stay in hotels, for two examples of many — are important to the industry as a whole if not to the hotels that bill themselves as five-star. The World Travel and Tourism Council estimated that in 2014 more than 135,000 Panamanian jobs directly depended on tourism.

Restrictive laws, unfriendly statements by public officials and the behavior of belligerent citizens can adversely affect a publicity sensitive industry like tourism. On the other hand, a perception that public policies work for the benefit of foreigners rather than citizens is toxic to the career of any politician who gets blamed for such policies. It appears that President Varela’s decree seeks to balance these concerns, as well has to head Zulay off at the pass. Tourism Minister Gustavo Him, however, avoids the partisan spins. He opposes the sorts of restrictions for which Castillo and Rodríguez call, he said, because “anything that reduces the possibility of tourists coming is worrisome.”

 

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Scribner 1
“Casco Viejo Conversation” 10 x 13

What Panama’s Disney imagineer George Scribner is up to

paintings and note by George Scribner

Workshops

I’ll be doing a few beginning and intermediate workshops in the next few months in Sonoma, Westlake Village, New Smyrna Beach Florida, and The Art Room in Windermere, FL.

I’m now also offering a workshop on Painting the figure in a Landscape with suggestions on adding people to your landscape paintings.

Here’s a little more information: http://www.scribnerart.com/workshops
 

Scribner 2
“Blaze” 11 x 14 The title comes from the white marking on the horses face.

 

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