Whose Side Are We On?

The USA did a pretty thorough job of clearing (ethnically cleansing) the American Indians off their land and setting up shop on the vacancies. And now it looks like we are using that same skill set to clear off the land in Palestine.  We give what the USA calls “our friends” in Israel over $3 billion a year, and how much of that money did they spend to kill the over 1800 Gazans who have died in the last few weeks? Whatever the amount, we paid for it with our tax dollars. To grind salt into the wound, the US congress passed a resolution supporting the slaughter, and passed it without a single vote of dissension.  

Ostensibly, we are paying for “Israel’s right to defend itself.” But when defense looks unbearably like offense, we should know someone is manipulating the language. More on that later.

For those who need a quick orientation:

Gaza and the West Bank together make up the Occupied Palestinian Territories. They are geographic pieces of land separated by the midsection of Israel.  The West Bank is the larger of the two and is itself broken up by large Israeli settlements (essentially suburbs of Jerusalem and Tel Aviv that illegally encroach deeper and deeper into the West Bank.) Therefore the territory of the West Bank is fragmented and variously administered by 1)the Palestinian Authority, 2)a combination of the PA and the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) or 3)straight up by the IDF, depending upon the designation assigned by the Oslo Accords. The Oslo accords were a series of talks and agreements between the Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO) and Israel, finalized in 1995.

Gaza, on the other hand, is a much smaller 139 square mile strip of land along the Mediterranean Sea.  Israel evacuated all its settlements in Gaza in 2005, but has retained control of air and sea space, all the borders and all the flow of people and goods over those borders. Israeli forces make regular incursions into Gaza, or send missiles into Gaza periodically assassinating the political leadership of Hamas, (the political party in power in Gaza,) and occasionally people standing near by (bystanders, “So sorry…”) Actually, Israel doesn’t limit itself to assassinations within Gaza, but has been implicated in assassinations of Hamas leadership in other countries as well. All your friends and relatives have probably condemned the rockets Hamas sends indiscriminately and usually non lethally into Israel, but likely few of them can name the countries in which Israel has carried out its assassinations, nor the names of the cities within Gaza where Israel has fired missiles and killed with impunity. (United Arab Emirates and Khan Younis are two examples) 

Israel also makes incursions into the West Bank, with the tacit agreement of the Palestinian Authorithy (in hot pursuit, warm pursuit, and ice cold pursuit, actually any pursuit that suits them) but Gaza feels it more intensely. Israel is more threatened by Hamas than it is by the ruling party in the West Bank (Fatah.)

Hamas and Fatah are the two largest political entities in the occupied Palestinian territories.  Fatah has been negotiating with Israel on and off sine the Oslo accords but Israel will not communicate with Hamas because Hamas has been designated a terrorist organization by the US and other countries.   Earlier this summer Fatah and Hamas signed a reconciliation agreement to form a unity government which was very threatening to Israel.  Hamas refuses to recognize Israel as a Jewish state and has not renounced military resistance to the occupation. Israel pulled out of the interminable “Peace Talks” when Hamas and Fatah made this announcement. (The fact that Israel is not being called upon to purge itself of the factions that call for the transfer of all Palestinians to other Arab countries, nor to renounce targeted killings and assassination, but Hamas must recognize Israel as a Jewish state and renounce violence is illustrative of how uneven the playing field is.) 

This reconciliation agreement between Hamas and Fatah mends a breech that deepened in 2006 and 2007 after elections for parliamentary seats were held in the occupied Palestinian territories at the urging of the Bush administration.  Among the handful of Palestinian groups participating, Hamas and Fatah were the largest two political parties. By international observer accounts these elections were fair and free. Hamas won 76 of 134  seats—much to the horror of the US and Israeli governments, who refused to recognize the results of the election. Hamas was unable to take its seats in the parliament and fierce fighting, sometimes referred to as the Palestinian Civil War, broke out. In the end, Hamas prevailed in Gaza and assumed power there, and in the West Bank, Fatah remained in power. Gaza and Gazans became isolated, blockaded and strangled by Israel. The West Bank saw more Israeli settlement construction, which was accomplished by destruction of Palestinian neighborhoods, homes and farmland.  The PA engaged in talks with Israel which are often seen as “stall tactics” while more settlements are built. Hamas on the other hand harrassed Israel by lobbing rockets into southern Israel, which until recently caused no fatalities and very little property damage. Such was the situation leading up to the reconciliation agreement.  

Two grizzly events against this backdrop have been blamed for the current bloodbath in Gaza, but these events may also have been manipulated to justify punishing Palestinians for the reconciliation agreement between Hamas and Fatah. Three Israeli boys were kidnapped and murdered in the West Bank. Hamas was blamed, though they denied ordering the murders and ultimately were cleared of responsibility. Israeli forces conducted a broad sweep throughout the West Bank and arrested between 300 and 800 Hamas members, many of whom had been released during the prisoner swap for the release of a long held Israeli soldier. Those Hamas members are back in Israeli jails. While this round up was being conducted, a Palestinian boy was kidnapped and killed. Three Israelis, one adult and two minors were arrested and admitted to kidnapping, killing and burning the young Palestinian. Hamas intensified the number and range of the rockets it fired into Israel. Israeli and US accounts characterize the escalation of Hamas rocket fire as retaliation for the murder of the Palestinian boy. But the re-arrests of the recently released Hamas members may have been an Israeli provocation to provide a pretext for unleashing a bruising blow to Hamas in Gaza. As the pattern goes, (In 2008 and 2012, Gazans were killed in similar circumstances) Israeli claims it is acting in “self defense” and the US supports that claim, even in the face of almost 2000 Palestinian deaths in Gaza. 

DSC_1128-web Once the killing abates, the status quo will remain: the blockade, the lethal incursions, the bulldozing of homes and farmland, the expansion of settlements and the continuing construction of the wall the separates not only most Israelis from the West Bank, but snakes into Palestinian territory, separating Palestinian farmers and villages from the farm land that is their livelihood.The world’s attention will wander elsewhere, Gaza will be left to pick up the pieces of Israel’s self defense and the killing calm that Israel craves will be restored. As Americans who are footing the bill, we need to decide which side we are on, and what we are going to do about it.

Occupy and Political Dissent Treated as Terrorism

by Justin Karter

Recent lawsuits have revealed the members of Occupy, anti-war activists and protesters are treated as “terrorists” by the F.B.I. and other law enforcement agencies, a designation that carries potential legal and civil rights consequences such as increased surveillance and indefinite detention.

In response to repeated Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests concerning an alleged sniper plot to assassinate members of Occupy Houston, FBI FOIA chief David Hardy repeatedly argued in court that the information was classified because “disclosure would interfere with an investigation.” The F.B.I. investigation was not concerning the assassination plot however. Rather, it was directed at the members of Occupy Houston. Hardy stated that Occupy Houston is being investigated for “domestic terrorism” and “advocating overthrow of government.” Continue reading

Men Of Honor – Steel City Mayan

by Olivia Rose Mancing

East Carson Street bar, March 2014, and late night employees itching from their unbearable shift at the huge franchise restaurants of the Southside Works spill in with abrasive chatter, peels of laughter, barks and squeals. They lounge on one another in their front-of-house white blouses and jeans, throwing back their heads to pour in the elixir of relaxation—Miller Light. Amid the shouting and the top twenty countdown songs blaring from the jukebox, three young men sit silently at the bar. They are all three slight of build, all but five feet tall and of a clay complexion, shiny black hair. They do dishwashing and heavy-duty cleaning in the same restaurants as the others. They speak to each other softly, pensively in Ixil, a Mayan language they carried with them across two national borders—Nebaj, Guatemala to Pittsburgh, a city that’s skyline resembles Gotham in the cold drizzle of an early-spring night. Continue reading

Arun Gupta on What Comes After Occupy: Guest Editorial

The People's Park, Pittsburgh, in October 2011.

The People’s Park, Pittsburgh, in October 2011.

Anniversaries are a time for memorial and evaluation, to dissect what has passed and venture what could have been. The one-year anniversary of the founding of Occupy Pittsburgh Now offers one such opportunity, and what happened to the Occupy Wall Street movement is the burning question.

In hindsight everything about Occupy seems logical, even inevitable – the conditions that gave rise to it, the decisions made, the overall trajectory. It was a year of global uprisings; big banks were widely loathed; Democrats and Republicans had let the economic crisis fester; “We are the 99%” electrified millions; occupation brought the anger to Wall Street’s doorstep while creating a festive democratic commons; and in the end the system, that vague suffocating force, crushed the dream. Continue reading

Make it Our UPMC Protest

About 150 protesters made up of a coalition of groups such as Pittsburgh Interfaith Impact Network, Pittsburghers for Public Transit and Fight Back Pittsburgh, marched from UPMC headquarters in the U. S. Steel building to the City-County Building and the County Courthouse chanting “UPMC – You Are Not A Charity”.
The coalition has started a campaign called “Make It Our UPMC”, charging that the non-profit health care organization does not do enough for the regions community; for instance- spending less than 2% of its revenues on free health-care, while generating $9.6 billion dollars in revenue in its last fiscal year, and receiving $204 million dollars in tax breaks in 2012.
UPMC is the area’s largest tax-exempt charity with annual profits worth hundreds of millions of dollars. It’s CEO is paid more than $6 million dollars a year, 22 other executives make at least $1 million per year while it’s full time employees are the third most frequent users of public assistance in the region, after Walmart & McDonalds, according to the Pennsylvania Department of Labor.
UPMC is the largest private employer in Pennsylvania, with approximately 56,000 employees.

“Oh, you mean they’re going to gentrify the river?”

by Bram Reichbaum

That was the reaction of one former Occupy Pittsburgh participant, upon learning of the Buncher Company’s plans to redevelop 55 acres in the Strip District. The swath of land  stretches from 11th to 21st St. and from Smallman St. to the shoreline of the Allegheny.

On one hand, the sweeping deal for this chunk of land represents the expansion of the cramped “Golden Triangle” central business district eastward; on the other hand, though, it forecasts challenges for maintaining the authentic lure of the Strip and of Pittsburgh’s riverfronts as neighborhood and tourist amenities. Continue reading

Ground Up (and Down): OPN Looks at America’s Infrastructure

A few decades ago, it was conventional wisdom that America’s infrastructure was the best in the world.

But that’s not true anymore. According to the 2011-12 World Economic Forum’s ranking of national infrastructure systems, American infrastructure has fallen to #16, behind South Korea, down from #6 in 2007.

Without even replacement-level investment for decades, our infrastructure is simply worn out. Many of our roads and bridges, for example, are decades past their planned lifespans, and are daily carrying loads many times what they were designed to handle.

From our deteriorating roads and bridges aboveground to the crumbling water and sewage pipes under our feet, from the fragility of our patchwork and overstressed electrical grid to the unfinished business of the Clean Air and Clean Water Acts, we know we can do better.

And it’s also clear that infrastructure investments not only provide immediate economic opportunities, they continue to spur economic growth for years. As infrastructure champions point out, paying into our infrastructure is not a cost—it’s an investment that pays us back many times over in hundreds of ways, including quality of life. And as our planet faces a dramatically changing climate, smart planning and action in making sustainability a core consideration is more important than ever before.

But until recently there’s been little political will, either on the part of our privatization-obsessed Governor or our Republican-dominated legislature, to find a way forward. Ending years of inertia, Corbett has promised a plan this week, and it’s eagerly awaited, since construction costs rise daily.

In this atmosphere, what can PA’s citizens do to ensure a better future and intelligent and efficient infrastructure? How can we facilitate action at all levels of government and ensure we act as responsible global citizens at the same time?  Who is responsible for making decisions, how do we reach them, and where does funding for these endeavors come from?

Next month, OPN will feature its first piece in the ongoing series Ground Up (and Down) which will focus on the contemporary realities of American infrastructure and ways in which citizens can do their part to ensure a more sustainable future.  We will be examining local infrastructure issues and national trends which affect us on a local level, offer a clearer picture on the economic, social and environmental impacts of infrastructure on our region, and offer some ideas for moving forward.

We look forward to bringing this to our readers and literally Occupy the streets (and water systems, and electric grid, and communications systems…

CeaseFire PA Candlelight Vigil Remembers Victims of Gun Violence

Each year in Pennsylvania, 1,200 people are killed because of gun violence, and thousands more are injured.
On January 8, members of CeaseFirePA joined the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence on the anniversary of 19 people being shot in a Tuscon Arizona Supermarket parking lot, leaving six dead and 13 wounded, including United States Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords.
Thousands of people across Pennsylvania joined in the national candlelight vigil to remember friends & family members whose lives ended or were impacted by gun violence.
The event took place at the at the Wesley A.M.E. Zion Church in Pittsburgh, joining Philadelphia, York, Reading, West Chester, Easton and Kennett Square PA.
Those unable to attend but wishing to participate, were able to share their message of support or make a commitment to take a stand against gun violence at CeaseFirePA’s website.

Vigil for Victim of Domestic Violence

A march, followed by a vigil at Eastminster Presbyterian Church in East Liberty, took place on Saturday, January 12, for KaSandra Wade, who was found shot to death in her apartment on January 2, 2013.
According to news reports: At 10:38 p.m. on New Year’s Eve, Ms. Wade called 911 from a cell phone. During that 28-second conversation, Ms. Wade was only able to ask for “someone” to come to her home in Larimer before there was a muffled sound, then the line being disconnected.
Investigators believe that Ms. Wade was secretly trying to call for help and had the phone ripped from her hand, according to District Attorney Steven Zappala. Ms. Wade was found shot to death in her apartment 20 hours later.
Wade began working for Action United in March as an intern while she was a student at the Kaplan Career Institute, according to Maryellen Deckard, Statewide Campaign & Development director. The organization hired her before she finished the internship, and she was due to start full-time on the Wednesday following her death, Deckard said.
East Liberty-based Action United is a nonprofit that focuses on issues affecting low-income communities.
At the march, people spoke about creating “KaSandra’s Law”, legislation that would make it mandatory for police to speak with a woman during domestic violence calls.
The goal is to present it to city council on National Women’s Day, March 8, 2013.