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August 8, 2015

Can Mindfulness Reduce Racism?

The shooting death of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri, and the choking death of Eric Garner in New York City have shaken American society to its core, triggering waves of protests. Most Americans seem to feel that racism played a role in these deaths—that they never would have happened if the victims had been white.

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July 10, 2015

Jimmy Carter & Gro Brundtland: UN Report Shows Accountability is Key to Unlocking Peace in Israel and Gaza

“Continued impunity and lack of accountability will greatly increase the likelihood of fresh conflict and further war crimes.”

The report by the UN Human Rights Council’s Commission of Inquiry into the 2014 Gaza war highlights rights violations and possible war crimes committed by both sides. Its findings echo what we heard on our own visit to Israel and Palestine two months ago. We received many first-hand accounts of the effects of the war on both Palestinian and Israeli civilians.

We came away from Israel and Palestine convinced that political leaders in Israel, the Palestinian Authority and Hamas all need to be subject to greater accountability so that they uphold the rule of law.

This is why we welcome the Commission of Inquiry’s report as a potential milestone on the path to accountability. The report is as objective and even-handed as circumstances allowed, as is to be expected with the highly regarded US judge Mary McGowan Davis as Commission Chair.

House in Israel destroyed by Hamas rocket. Photo: Israel Defence Forces

It is regrettable that neither Israel nor Hamas responded to the Commission’s questions about specific incidents and legal and policy issues – unlike the Palestinian leadership in Ramallah, which did provide answers. Israel went further, refusing any cooperation and denying entry to Palestinian territories to members of the Commission on the grounds of “inherent bias” – a charge repeated again by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu when the report was published.

Israel regularly complains about perceived bias by the UN and its institutions (notably the Human Rights Council), and other international actors – including, on occasion, The Elders. In such a deep-rooted, protracted and torturous conflict, objectivity becomes a precarious commodity and accusations of bias can be easily deployed by both sides to deflect criticism.

It is worth noting that Hamas has also rejected the Commission’s criticisms. When institutions, be they UN-related or respected NGOs, are loudly criticised by both parties to a dispute or conflict, the likelihood is that they have acted in a spirit of neutrality.

Destroyed ambulance in Gaza Strip Photo: Boris Niehaus

Ironically, Israel and Hamas both complain that they are being compared to one another in the report. Israel, as a sovereign, internationally-recognised state, objects to any comparison to what it calls a terrorist organisation; likewise, Hamas in its self-declared role as a “resistance movement” sees no comparison between its actions and those of an occupying military power.

These complaints obscure a wider point: the actions of both Israel and Hamas should be measured against international standards of behaviour. It is not a question of equivalence, but of equal and fair treatment under international law.

The Commission’s report recommends that the parties to the Gaza conflict should themselves take responsibility for prosecuting and ensuring appropriate accountability for violations of international law. However, it seems that neither Israel nor Hamas can be relied upon to do so. Consistent with past practice in previous conflicts over Gaza, Israel’s own report has exonerated its armed forces from any blame for civilian deaths in Gaza, including four children killed on a beach, attacks on UN schools where displaced inhabitants were taking shelter, and apparently deliberate destruction of civilian homes.

Hamas claims the report establishes a “false balance” between victims and killers – ignoring those killed by its own attacks. Impunity flourishes in this climate of denial and self-justification, making ordinary citizens on all sides more vulnerable to violent attacks and human rights abuses.

This is why The Elders support the Commission’s main recommendation that “the parties should cooperate fully with the preliminary examination of the International Criminal Court (ICC) and with any subsequent investigation by the ICC that may be opened.”

The decision by the Palestinian Authority to now submit evidence to the ICC on the Gaza war, illegal settlements in the West Bank and East Jerusalem, and the treatment of Palestinian prisoners shows this issue will only gain in political salience in the weeks and months ahead.

The ICC is one of the nearest institutions to objective neutrality that the community of nations possesses. The more it is used and respected, the more effective it will become. It was set up to be one of the principal means of achieving accountability for war crimes and minimising impunity. Regrettably neither Israel nor the US are parties to the Court. In our view, they should be.

As the Commission’s report makes clear, impunity for breaches of international law, including war crimes, has prevailed “across the board” in recent conflicts between Israel and the Palestinians, not least in Gaza. Continued impunity and lack of accountability will greatly increase the likelihood of fresh conflict and further war crimes. Already, diplomats on the ground are grimly forecasting a new, and even bloodier, round over Gaza.

The peoples of Israel and Palestine are weary of conflict; the international community is weary of years of failed negotiations; the donors are weary of rebuilding destruction and seeing no results for their generosity. If, however, the ICC can now enforce accountability this could increase the incentive for all parties to act within the law and convince them that the only way to resolve the conflict is through peaceful diplomacy, not force of arms.

Source: TheElders.org

June 23, 2015

Tutu endorses United Church of Christ divestment

The United Church of Christ will hold its general synod in Cleveland June 26-30 and consider a divestment resolution targeting the Israeli occupation. Archbishop emeritus Desmond Tutu has issued a statement supporting the resolution.

My dear sisters and brothers in the United Church of Christ,

Greetings in the name of Jesus Christ, through whom we share work and witness on behalf of God’s love and God’s justice.

I write to endorse, “A Call for the United Church of Christ to Take Actions Toward a Just Peace in the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict”, Resolution #4, which will be put to the vote at your 30th General Synod later this month in Cleveland, Ohio.

We grieve over Israel’s decades long oppression of Palestine and Palestinians: The illegal occupation; the expanding West Bank settlements; the separation wall; the siege of Gaza; the manipulation of water rights; the network of checkpoints and settler bypass roads; the detention of people without charges; the travel restrictions, identity cards, and disruption of every aspect of daily life for Palestinians.

We condemn the brutality of Israel’s policies. But we do not condemn Judaism or Jews.

As South African, we recognize institutionalized racism when we see it. We have experienced the corrosive effects of segregation – and have witnessed the healing power and joy of reconciliation.

It is unconscionable to remain silent, or neutral, in the face of injustice. Neutrality maintains the status quo and compounds the injustice.

The depth of my commitment to justice in the Holy Land has cost me friends and elicited vehement criticism. It is the cost of discipleship that requires us to name evil and clearly oppose it. Calling me anti-Semitic will not stop me from speaking out for justice.

We do not seek to demonize the architects of Israel’s occupation of Palestine, but to implore those with the political power to change their policies and their ways. Injustice brutalizes the humanity of the oppressors as well as that of the oppressed. Freedom for Palestinians will liberate Israelis, too.

We are sisters and brothers of one family, the human family, God’s family. We are made for each other, for inter-dependence, for goodness and for love. When we recognize each other for what we truly are, we make the impossible possible.

Thank you for recognizing our common humanity, for taking a stand for justice. Your resolution places you on the side of justice and human rights for all.

I endorse fully your resolution’s proposal to use the powerful non-violent tools of economic leverage. These tools helped us to engineer a new day for my own country, South Africa. With you, we proved that economic pressure can force the most powerful to the table. I am grateful that your denomination stood with us then, voting to join the South African divestment movement, and that you are prepared once again to take this stand for justice.

I applaud your decision to be guided by the faithful voice of the Christian community of Palestine, and to encourage widespread study of Kairos Palestine – a Moment of Truth (2009). It was just such a document which, in 1985, allowed the world to hear our voice and learn the depth of our oppression in South Africa. May we all heed the Kairos Palestine call, as people of faith, to engage in “resistance with love as its logic”.

I affirm your resolution’s condemnation of all violence and your uncompromising commitment to the path of non-violence and inter-religious dialogue. And I commend the resolution’s call for accountability from your own, United States, government over its annual $3.1 billion in military aid to Israel.

As US citizens you have the responsibility to speak truth to the power of your own government. As Christians you have the duty to side with the oppressed and by so doing to liberate the oppressor.

I endorse your resolution, and fervently pray for the day when Palestinians and Israelis will be reconciled and live together in dignity, security, and peace, with equal rights for all. When that day comes our collective hallelujahs will resound across the world we share.

God bless you.

Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu Cape Town, South Africa

Source: Mondoweiss.net

June 15, 2015

Desmond Tutu & Bettina Gronblom: Migration – Choosing Freedom Over Xenophobia

In September 2012 we wrote together warning about the rise of xenophobia, intolerance and political scaremongering (the blog can be read here “God is not a Christian”. The situation has become worse. South Africa’s long walk to freedom is now threatened by xenophobic violence. Our universal human rights are being eroded in Europe on the basis of scaremongering and “national security”. Desperate migrants are drowning in the Mediterranean and mass migrant graves have been found in Asia. Xenophobia and migration are now urgent worldwide issues.

What do we do about migration? How do we move from a world of “terror” to peace? We must, as Mahatma Gandhi said, be the change we want to see in the world. This feels like an aged statement by now – but one we have yet to enact. In order to have peace, we must truly, be peace. The good news is that this is not at all impossible. In fact it is within immediate reach if we just think and listen differently, because as we know, we cannot solve a problem with the same kind of thinking that created it in the first place.

Isn’t seeing others suffer, knowing that we can help, just another form of violence towards others, and a violence towards our inner-selves, our souls, depriving us of our own happiness? No one chooses to be a refugee or migrant. Facing poverty, discrimination, violence, war, corruption and malnutrition is a prison, because it renders you helpless to live a full life. Migration is the only escape.

Xenophobia is a prison – a Robben Island of mind and matter – that can never lead to peace or happiness. Of mind, because society is a reflection of the images we create of each other, and it is these perceived images that fight and hate. Of matter, because we can never build walls high enough to keep destitute people out – and even if we could – would that not be a prison in itself?

Xenophobia is defined as hatred and fear of that which is foreign or “strange” to us. The definition of a phobia is according to the Merriam-Webster Dictionary “an exaggerated usually inexplicable and illogical fear of a particular object, class of objects, or situation” (italics ours). This is what xenophobia is – exaggerated, inexplicable and illogical. This is actually great news because this is also the way out of this mental prison.

This phobia can be conquered with education and familiarity. We can be realistic about our fears and help others overcome theirs. We can educate ourselves and others, check social and economic facts about immigration, get to truly know one-another without wearing inflammatory blindfolds produced by scaremongering. We can realise that by hating or fearing others we are corroding our own inner peace and happiness.

We can consciously liberate our minds. What political messages do we choose to listen to? What kind of news do we read? What kind of movies, games, books and even people, do we subject our minds to? Our children’s minds? Our inner peace? We can remain passive and continue to subject ourself to violence and fear – or we can choose those sources that come from love. We can remind ourselves that all revered and unforgettable leaders in history; Nelson Mandela, Mahatma Gandhi, Mother Theresa, Martin Luther King, people like John Lennon – stood for one thing – LOVE – not fear or scaremongering.

It is so easy to be negatively influenced by hatred and violence. We hear or see what we want to hear and see, as a result of what we have been influenced by. If we look for the “terrorist” we will surely find him in the foreigner. If we look for the human being in the migrant, we will find her too. If we look for love – we find love.

Born a slave, the greek philosopher Epictetus said: “No man is truly free who is not a master of himself.”. We can free our minds from the pollution of hate and fear. With free minds we see that there truly is nothing to fear but fear itself. Fear will lead us to imprison ourselves in our own countries by trying to keep others out. Fear will lead to more wars and violence. Fear will erode our human rights and our privacy. By choosing to break free from our imprisoned state of mind, we become not only free and happy – we actually become peace.

This is an “Oprah Aha” moment and it only takes a second! This is how, if we want it, peace is within our immediate reach.

“Freedom makes a huge requirement of every human being. With freedom comes responsibility. For the person who is unwilling to grow up, the person who does not want to carry his own weight, this is a frightening prospect.” –Eleanor Roosevelt, Human Rights Champion.

But surely we cannot accommodate the world in a few countries? Surely we cannot afford to help everyone in the world? We can, because the financial cost alone of “terrorism” and wars is far greater than dealing with the issues at source. We don’t have to be accountants to figure that out. Spending on war and “anti-terrorism measures” is a fallacious argument when we need to solve the real sources for conflict. With freedom comes responsibility and we must help people at home and in their own countries. Most people actually want to stay in their home countries if they could. This is where the focus should be.

In order to choose freedom over xenophobia we need development and growth as if human beings mattered. Not more economic development based on Gross Domestic Product (GDP) or arbitrary monetary values (see also blog “About What Peter Buffet Said on Philanthropy, ROI and Understanding” http://www.huffingtonpost.co.uk/bettina-gronblom/philanthropy_b_3962660.html). Wealth doesn’t “trickle down” to the poorest and there is no equal “level playing field” to begin with in unequal societies. After decades of economic growth and numerous happiness studies, we know now that happiness doesn’t come from economic growth itself, but from our human relationships, showing and receiving compassion and love, and things like spending time in nature.

We need to free people from their “unfreedoms”, similarly to what Amartya Sen argued so well in his 1999 book Development as Freedom. We assert that as long as anyone suffers malnutrition, lacks access to clean water and proper education, are discriminated against, violated, suffer from corruption or environmental contaminations, have unequal rights or unequal opportunities and similar “unfreedoms”- no one can be truly free or happy. We are all one human family.

We can actively choose freedom over xenophobia, or put another way – choose to love and not to fear. We can start this journey in a split second by thinking differently, seeing things differently.

We can be peace now.

Source: Huffington Post

June 8, 2015

The Dalai Lama on Inner Peace, Inner Values and Mental States (VIDEO)

Nobel Peace laureate and spiritual guide to the Tibetan people, the Dalai Lama, speaks on achieving Inner Peace for an audience at the University of California, Santa Barbara in 2009.


His Holiness the XIVth Dalai Lama, Tenzin Gyatso, is the spiritual and temporal leader of the Tibetan people.

During the 1959 Tibetan uprising, the Dalai Lama fled to India, where he denounced the Chinese Communist Party and established the nongovernmental Central Tibetan Administration. He has since traveled the world, advocating for the welfare of Tibetans, teaching Tibetan Buddhism, investigating the interface between Buddhism and science and talking about the importance of compassion as the source of a happy life.

The Dalai Lama has travelled to more than 67 countries spanning 6 continents. He has received over 150 awards, honorary doctorates, prizes, etc., in recognition of his message of peace, non-violence, inter-religious understanding, universal responsibility and compassion. He has also authored or co-authored more than 110 books.

In 1989 he was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for his non-violent struggle for the liberation of Tibet. He has consistently advocated policies of non-violence, even in the face of extreme aggression. He also became the first Nobel Laureate to be recognized for his concern for global environmental problems.

Visit the Dalai Lama’s Official web site: www.DalaiLama.com

June 3, 2015

Does the U.S need a Truth and Reconciliation Process?

In the wake of the storm of police violence against black people raging across the United States, Archbishop Desmond Tutu and his daughter, Reverend Mpho Tutu, consider the question of whether a truth and reconciliation process is needed in America, and if it could help heal the still-bleeding wounds of racism.

Source: Yes! Magazine