Peace & Justice

Tuesday afternoon at Modesto Peace/Life Center

Tuesdays, the Peace/Life Center is usually open from 12:00 noon to 3:00 p.m. Bring brown bag lunch. Come by for some coffee or tea or to chat or to see a film or browse through various books and magazines. Beverages will be provided.

Modesto Peace/Life Center

Annual Meeting



720 13th ST., MODESTO


            8:30 AM                     — Coffee and Conversation

            9:00 AM                     — Business Meeting:

  • Financial Report

  • Committee Reports

  • Election of Board Members

                                                — Discussion:

  • Action plans, ideas and strategies

For 36 years the Modesto Peace/Life Center has been a meeting place for people concerned about peace, justice, equality, and a sustainable environment.

While the Center is most widely known for it’s opposition to war, Center programs have also educated ourselves and others on government policies, and worked to make our community and  world a more peaceful and equitable place.

Our newsletter, published for 19 years, provided information on local peace and justice events and was, during the California Nuclear (energy) War of 1970s and ‘80s, a trusted source of information about nuclear power and alternative energy. Replacing the newsletter  in 1989 with the newspaper format of Stanislaus Connections allowed us to invite more of the community to submit articles and calendar items.

From the first, the Center hosted other organizations: National Organization for Women, Friends Outside, the Martin Luther King, Jr. Commemoration Committee, Stanislaus Safe Energy Committee (the proposed East Stanislaus/Waterford nuclear reactor was not built!), campaign headquarters for statewide initiatives such as the Nuclear Freeze and the bottle bill (recycling), a Sierra Club consultant working on water issues, and, currently, the League of Women Voters, American Civil Liberties Union, and a new gay/lesbian rights group, among others.

The Modesto/Peace Life Center, like any volunteer organization, is only as strong and diverse as those committed to working together. Please join us!

Pride Center opens its doors

The Stanislaus PRIDE Center, Inc. (SPC), located at 823 Fifteenth St., Modesto recently announced the opening of the first ever facility solely dedicated to serving gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender (GLBT) persons, allies and friends in Stanislaus and surrounding counties. Notably, the Center’s existence marks the first time in the history of the area that a facility exists as a dedicated ‘safe space’ to serve all GLBTs in the community, regardless of age, gender (identity), sexual preference, race, disability, religion, race or class.

The Pride Center is open for drop-in hours Wednesdays through Saturdays from 3:00 p.m. to 7:00 p.m. Visit

The Modesto Peace Life Center wishes them well. Now that the Pride Center is in its new home, the group will no longer be using our facility. For at least a year, gay, lesbian or transgender people have been meeting at the Peace Life Center in return for a donation to help pay the rent.

The Peace Life Center Board would like to have the Peace Center used as much as possible. The League of Women Voters of Stanislaus County uses the center as its office, and the ACLU also meets there.

We remind the regular committees of the Center that EVERYONE needs to check the calendar each month to be sure others are not using the center at the same time. A large calendar is posted on the wall with plenty of room to write in your meeting dates.

Contact Shelly Scribner, 521-6304, or Myrtle Osner, 522-4967, to check confirm calendar dates, or email

The Myths of Military Opportunity

“The reason to have a military is to be prepared to fight and win wars... it’s not a jobs program.”

— Former Secretary of Defense Richard Cheney

Many believe that joining the military is a way out of poverty. The reality for most veterans is far different. The military spends $1.9 billion each year on recruiting, and the military’s ads project an image of opportunity in the military that does not withstand sober analysis.

Time of Service: The military regards you as part of the Individual Ready Reserve, and therefore subject to call-up, for eight years from the date of your arrival at basic training, even if you only signed up for two years.

Money for College: The military isn’t a generous financial aid institution, and it isn’t concerned with helping you pay for school. Two-thirds of all recruits never get any college funding from the military. Only 15% graduated with a four-year degree. Sixty-five percent of recruits who pay the required $1200.00into the Montgomery GI Bill never get a dime in return. Economic discrimination often forces lower income people into the military in order to earn a living, learn a trade or get money for education. Often those who are forced into the military to learn a trade, or earn money for school, don’t even get what they believe they were promised!

Job Skills Training: Veterans Earn Less than Non-Veterans: Studies have found that the average post-Vietnam War-era veteran will earn between 11% and 19% less than non-veterans from comparable socioeconomic backgrounds. According to a 1990 study, the average veteran will earn 85 cents less per hour (about $1700 less per year) than non-veteran peers.

Military Training is Primarily for Military Jobs: Only 12% of male veterans and 6% of female veterans surveyed made any use of skills learned in the military in their civilian jobs. “The evidence on rates of return to training and the probability of finding a job in one’s chosen occupation strongly suggests that, all else being equal, young people should look to sources of training other than the military if they wish to optimize their careers.”

Economic Opportunity?: The Army Times reported that over 50,000 unemployed veterans are on the waiting list for the military’s “retraining” program. The VA estimates that 1/3 of homeless people are vets.

Travel, Adventure and Discipline: What kind of discipline will you learn? Do you want to learn how to make decisions on your own or learn how to always follow someone else’s orders? The military takes care of every detail, telling you where, when and how to do everything. Maybe that’s the kind of discipline you think you need. But it isn’t the kind of discipline most of us need in the real world. We need to think on our own and make our own decisions.

War: The military has one overriding purpose: to prepare for and fight wars. You literally sign your life over to the military. You must be prepared to fight a war, even one you may not agree with. People are killed and you might be the one who kills them. Many veterans can’t forget some of the awful things they have seen, and suffer either severe physical wounds or severe post-traumatic stress. Is that the kind of risk you want to take to finance your college education?

Adapted from Central Committee for Conscientious Objectors materials, 510-465-161;

Wrapped around a bullet

By Kathy Kelly

An Iraqi friend whom I’ve known for ten years looked worn and very weary yesterday when he came to visit me in my apartment here in Amman, Jordan. He hadn’t slept the night before because he’d been on the phone with his wife who, throughout the night, was terrified by cross fire taking place over the Iraqi village where she stays with their four small children. My friend longs to soothe and protect his wife and kids. But now he lives apart from them, in another country.

His life was completely changed when a piece of paper was tossed into his kitchen in Baghdad. It read: “Leave now or you will die like a dog.” Many Iraqis have been receiving notes like this. This piece of paper was sent to him with a bit of extra emphasis. It was wrapped around a bullet.

Weeks later, assailants killed his younger brother who was returning home from University studies. My friend moved his family to a village outside Baghdad and then ran for his life.

Here in Amman, where the U.N. cites a figure of 700,000 Iraqis who’ve fled their country, he feels trapped. Like other Iraqis, he lives without legal protections: he is not allowed to work, he is unable to obtain proper documentation to settle here, and each Embassy to which he has applied for resettlement has given him the cold shoulder. He may walk the sunburst streets of Amman, ride in taxis, eat in kabob shops, but he lives a shadowy, underground existence. Everyday, Iraqis in Jordan are arrested (for working, for overstaying their visas, etc.) and deported. This, too, is a death threat of sorts. Meanwhile, in Iraq, his family lives in a battlefield, and who knows what tomorrow will bring?

Still, my friend’s case is hardly unique. Relative to other stories we’ve heard, he is somewhat fortunate. He was not captured and tortured before fleeing Iraq. His wife has not been raped. His children are still alive.

Anyone listening to my friend’s experience of loss and tragedy would surely understand his feelings of cynicism, even bitterness, when he thinks about how the Bush Administration has sold this ongoing war. Turn the page back to May of 2006, when sectarian violence had already begun to consume Iraq, and here is how President Bush depicted what the U.S. had done for Iraq, following Iraqi elections:

“For the people across the broader Middle East, a free Iraq will be an inspiration….(Iraqis) have proved that the desire for liberty in the heart of the Middle East is for real. They have shown diverse people can come together and work out their differences…Years from now, people will look back on the formation of a unity government in Iraq as a decisive moment in the story of liberty, a moment when freedom gained a firm foothold in the Middle East and the forces of terror began their long retreat.”

The speechwriter who equipped President Bush with these lines should be burning with shame. President Bush indulged in a fantasy at a time when thousands of Iraqi civilians were fleeing abroad, every month, to escape worsening violence and tens of thousands more were being displaced internally – nearly half a million in the last ten months, according to UNHCR.

In reality, there were no encouraging signs of the U.S. troop presence stabilizing the situation in Iraq. Today, even President Bush acknowledges that news from Iraq is “unsettling,” as daily headlines report battles, kidnappings, torture, and murder.

Nevertheless, the President will likely ask the Congress to approve 97.7 billion dollars in supplemental spending for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan which will be in addition to the Pentagon’s $560 billion dollar budget. According to some estimates, U.S. taxpayers will pay close to 2 trillion dollars for a doomed war in Iraq.

A New York Times article called “Heady Days for Makers of Weapons” notes that military contractors are profiting more than ever as Pentagon spending has reached record levels. Nobody expects the Democrats, now in charge of the Senate and House Armed Services Committees, to interfere with the lucrative deal making. With an eye toward 2008 elections, Democrats want to establish their cooperation with the most powerful lobby on Capitol Hill, the “defense” lobby. “I think the Democrats will be on good behavior,” commented an analyst with JSA Securities in Newport, R.I… “as long as the war continues and we have 150,000 troops in Iraq.” (NYT, December 26, 2006).

Ultimately, this means that U.S. taxpayers will have to be “on good behavior” and pouring billions more dollars into weapons making giants like Lockheed, Boeing, Raytheon, and General Dynamics.

No one asks us to behave accountably on behalf of the 100,000 Iraqi refugees who, every month, according to U.N. estimates, flee from Iraq.

We have yet to see a proposal for a generous package of reparations intended to help rebuild Iraq’s shattered infrastructure.

The U.S. should never cut and run away from our responsibility to pay very generously for reparations in Iraq. We should be committed to finding the most viable, practical means to help Iraqis rebuild their shattered infrastructure. We should seek negotiations with Iraq’s neighbors, not for purposes of being the “kingmaker” and deciding which country will emerge as the strongest, but rather for purposes of seeking an end to any foreign support for armed struggle within Iraq.

There are no simple solutions. Problems with corruption within Iraqi governing structures, retaliatory violence fueling a civil war, and the lack of protection for any non-governmental involvement in distributing support for reconstruction seem nearly insurmountable. But this doesn’t lessen the U.S. responsibility to direct U.S. wealth, ingenuity, and productivity toward just reparations for the enormous suffering our invasion and occupation has caused. Every effort should be made, within the U.S., to build public support for a U.S. financial commitment to help rebuild Iraq. Equivalent effort should be made to stop stuffing the portfolios of major weapons manufacturers.

Lawmakers should have at least enough integrity to acknowledge that current plans to support ongoing troop presence in Iraq at a cost of billions of dollars show very little promise for lessening the violence, displacement and signs of civil war that afflict Iraqis today.

Beginning in February 2007, when lawmakers will discuss the Administration’s proposed supplemental budget, Voices for Creative Nonviolence will launch “the Occupation Project.”

Although we have paltry financial means compared to the weapons makers who wield so much influence on Capitol Hill, we do have resources. We have our bodies. We have our determination. We have our compassion for Iraqi people and for U.S. soldiers. We have our concern for future generations who will not only have to live with the consequences of this violence, but who will also live on a planet spoiled by global warming, in no small part because we spent our resources on war instead of on developing clean energy sources. These are the grains of sand that will stop the cogs of war from turning.

Now is the time for seriously strategizing about the best ways, in our hometowns, to engage in sustained civil disobedience at the offices of elected representatives, demanding that they vote against the supplemental spending bill.

A polite refusal to leave an elected representative’s office may entail some hours spent in jail. Some will receive minor misdemeanor charges from federal or local police, for “disorderly conduct,” or “trespass” or “failure to comply.” We’ll prepare for a day in court; we’ll discuss how to handle any fines imposed on us. These are slight inconveniences and discomforts when I think of Iraqi friends, so wearied by war, and of the hundreds of thousands of Iraqis and the thousands of Americans whose lives are forever altered by the cruelty and senselessness of war and of those who prolong it.

Much more grave is the risk of growing adjusted to a warlike culture that feeds the multi-billion dollar weapon industry.

I shudder still, thinking of the note that landed in my friend’s kitchen, ugly paper wrapping a tiny yet terrible weapon. Who pens such a letter? Who delivers it? Who authorizes these threats? What kind of organization thrives on sundering families, on death and torture, on driving whole societies into flight and chaos and despair? The answers are murky and unclear. .

But we should all shudder with disgust at the clear fact that U.S. budget priorities are more devoted to protecting the profits of arms peddlers and military contractors than to seeking a better future for Iraqis.

It’s hard to put your foot down over something called a “supplemental spending bill”—over a piece of paper, a bit of writing that you didn’t write yourself but are perhaps helping to deliver. My friend’s life was ruined by such a piece of paper. Iraqis are leaving their homes in Iraq by the thousands every day, and prolonging this war will cause more to flee.

That’s why many of us will be occupying our representatives’ offices this winter. We don’t want to help deliver a death threat to people all across Iraq. This bill, this message of continued U.S. commitment to spending for war, isn’t just a piece of paper to them.

It’s a death threat, and it’s wrapped around a bullet.

Kathy Kelly ( co-coordinates Voices for Creative Nonviolence

ACTION: Visit Voices for Creative Nonviolence; email:; web: for more information on the Occupation Project.

March 17-18, 2007: Global days of action on the 4th anniversary of the war!

Tens of thousands of people will march on March 17, 2007 on the Pentagon, and on Sunday, March 18, thousands will gather in the streets of San Francisco in the largest antiwar protests since 50,000 people demonstrated in September 2005.

Global Days of Action against war and occupation with demonstrations taking place in hundreds of cities around the world will be held on March 17-18 to mark the fourth anniversary of the start of the “shock and awe” invasion of Iraq. The ANSWER Coalition and other anti-war organizations are calling for mass demonstrations in cities and towns throughout the United States as anti-war actions take place throughout the world on this global day of action.

ACTION: Everyone should come together in unity against the criminal actions of the U.S. government. Visit the ANSWER Coalition for information:

A remarkable conversation: Quaker House & the recruiters


On Thursday evening November 16, I visited Winston-Salem (NC) Friends Meeting, a pastoral meeting, to talk about Truth In Recruiting. They listed the topic on their marquee outside, and drew a small group, about fifteen to twenty.

I had brought several handouts to back up various statements, mainly reprints of new reports from major news organizations. 

It was as I turned to pick one up from a table behind me that the evening changed course.

When I turned back to the group, there was a new attendee in the back row — in uniform.

I kept talking, wondering who he was and why he was there. Then, after another turn for the next handout — there were TWO MORE uniformed men, and all of them were, I realized Marines.

Marines, sergeants, and, I surmised from their ultra-crisp uniforms, recruiters.

Yep. And in a few more minutes, one of them raised a hand and with some hesitation, asked a question. Before long, we had quite a conversation going, between them, me, and several W-S Friends. The three allowed as how they had seen the sign, and wanted to find out what was being said about them. (Intelligence-gathering, in GI jargon.) Afterward, they succumbed to the lure of Quaker cookies and coffee.

I am not aware of any other such non-polarized peacenik-recruiter encounters. Usually they involve picket lines and shouted slogans. But this discussion was quite civil and Quakerly.

Not that we agreed on many matters, of course. For instance, their senior member pooh-poohed my summary of poll results about low morale among US troops in Iraq (produced by one of the most respected of US professional pollsters), saying that he figured the respondents were likely lower-ranked soldiers, among whom complaining was almost a duty.

Similarly, all of them had served in Iraq, and they held to the predictable stance of support for the war. One of them had gone into Iraq with the first wave of invaders, and returned not long after we were told “Mission Accomplished.” His view of the war was that of the early propaganda: Brave Americans liberating a grateful oppressed people from an awful dictator. And he lamented the way all the “good things” the US had done there weren’t being highlighted by the media.

They also questioned our Sgt. Abe flyer, which analyzed the enlistment agreement, saying they did not use such forms, and they must be obsolete. I said I’d check on that. (I did, and visits to several official Pentagon sites listing enlistment forms confirm the authenticity and currency of the form we used, so we’re standing by it.) And on the other hand, they said they agreed completely with our new Sgt. Abe flyer, warning against omitting or falsifying data on enlistment forms.

One other point — one of them referred to “wild stories” on the internet about recruiter abuses, implying that they were exaggerated or apocryphal. However, they did not challenge any of my handouts on the same subject — which came from ABC and CBS News, Time Magazine, and the Government Accountability Office — not exactly marginal sources.

And they also insisted on their own probity and full disclosure in dealing with potential recruits. I was careful to express respect for their personal integrity, as did other Friends, but I did not trim or alter the substance of my presentation: recruiting is a tough job, which is dogged by persistent patterns of widespread abuse and deception.

From: reprinted with permission from the Quaker House Newsletter, December 2006, Quaker House, Fayetteville/Ft. Bragg NC;

Army fails to meet recruitment benchmarks; wealthy recruits under-represented

From the National Priorities Project

Northampton, MA — The Army filled its ranks in 2006 by ignoring its own benchmarks for recruits’ education standards, according to an analysis of 2006 military recruitment data released today by the National Priorities Project (NPP), a non-profit research organization that studies the local impact of federal policies.

According to the Army’s benchmark, 90 percent of new recruits should have a high school diploma. In 2006, 73 percent of all new recruits met this requirement, a drop of 13 percentage points since 2004.

“While President Bush talks about expanding the troops to fight the war in Iraq, the Army is already going after kids who haven’t had the privilege of finishing high school,” said Anita Dancs, research director of the National Priorities Project. “It appears that the Army’s ticket to recruitment success is finding young men and women with limited opportunities.”

At the same time, 2006 Army recruits from wealthy neighborhoods — those with median household incomes of $60,000 and above — continued to be under-represented at about the same level as 2005 and more so than in 2004, according to the NPP analysis ( The low- and middle-income neighborhoods were more over-represented than in 2004.

“The answer to these inequities or shortfalls in military recruiting is not a draft,” Dancs continued. “Instead, we should be talking about how we can ensure these young people get a quality education and avoid this devil’s choice by not engaging in wars of choice.”

Data from states with the largest proportion of high-quality recruits and with the lowest proportion of high-quality recruits is also available in the report

From National Priorities Project, 17 New South Street, Suite 302, Northampton, MA 01060;

"Pariah State”: Meeting with Palestinian Prime Minister Ismai’l Haniyeh


Part 1

“Gaza is the second most dangerous place in the world for an American to visit,” a highly placed US State Department official commented to a friend and me two weeks ago (November 15, 2006) in Jerusalem.

I first visited Gaza in 1968 and have returned more two dozen times, including many study groups and fact-finding delegations. My most recent visit was in April 2002. Since then, Israeli authorities have prevented our visiting Gaza. I was eager to return, to renew friendships and see for myself the changes that have taken place. I also wanted, if at all possible, to convey my support for those courageous people who continue to work for human rights, democracy and a political resolution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. They persist despite formidable obstacles. It is imperative, therefore, for them as well as for us, that those suffering such extreme isolation are not forgotten and that their voices still be heard.

But visiting the Gaza Strip is no easy thing. After Hamas won control of the Palestinian Authority (PA) in January 2006 elections, the Bush Administration determined that the Islamic movement represents a key thread in the web of global terrorism. Israel in turn decided Hamas constitutes a mortal threat to its survival. European and other nations followed suit by supporting both a US-led international diplomatic and economic boycott of Hamas and Israel’s military siege of the Gaza Strip. By all but official Israeli accounts, these factors have created a severe humanitarian crisis for the 1.5 million people crammed into Gaza’s 140 square miles and surviving on less than $2.00 per day.

Two months ago, a friend told me he wanted to gain a first hand view of what is happening on the ground in the ongoing conflict between Israel and the Palestinians. I suggested that we visit Gaza. I also told him that the US and Israeli governments would put up as many bureaucratic obstacles as possible to our going to Gaza. And then, if we persisted, they would try to scare us out of going. Nevertheless, before leaving California we had received “permission” to enter the Palestinian territory for three days through his contact at an Israeli consulate in the USA. The American government for its part was determined to dissuade us from visiting the hellhole of a fourth world country known as the Gaza Strip.

The Jerusalem diplomat spoke in a lifeless monotone during our half-hour meeting. Mustering as much gravitas as possible, he emphasized just how dangerous Gaza is. Second most dangerous place for Americans to visit in the world, in fact. Who beat out Gaza, I mused? It must be Baghdad. Or maybe Tehran or Kabul. But I wasn’t sure. Perhaps it is St. Louis, named “murder capital” of the USA during the recent World Series.

The diplomat and his head of security detailed the recent kidnapping of two Fox News personnel in Gaza. The cameraman, who happened to be from New Zealand, apparently persuaded his captors to look at a world map. He tried in vain to convince them that New Zealand is not part of the United States. No matter how unimportant we might be, and it was clear from the diplomat’s demeanor that he considered us altogether unimportant, we would surely be “prime targets” for kidnapping or worse, just because we’re Americans.

We also learned that if we were taken prisoner, our government could do nothing to help us. He forewarned that the US no longer has any contacts in the Gaza Strip and we’d be on our own should anything happen. We were to believe that the sole Superpower is incapable of communicating with groups operating in or influencing events in Gaza.

We listened with more than a bit of skepticism to the American official as he tried to prevail upon us not to visit Gaza.

The final straw, however, came later that day during a phone conversation with Washington, DC. An official at the Department of State told my friend, “Were you to travel to Gaza, you will almost certainly be killed.” That night, my friend explained his decision against Gaza, “If we were rescuing hostages or something, I might be able to justify making such a trip. But I would be going just for my self-education. It doesn’t seem to be worth the risk.”

I was not entirely surprised, but disappointed in his decision of course. I wish I’d had the presence of mind to counter, “But there are 1.5 million hostages in Gaza!” Since the capture of an Israeli soldier early this summer, the Gaza strip had suffered a devastating blockade and complete isolation that made it nearly impossible for anyone to visit. Growing hunger and despair reveal a civilian population held hostage to political power games by the Palestinian factions, Israel and the United States.

I resolved that night to make the trip to Gaza on my own.

Three days later, an hour-long taxi drive from East Jerusalem brought me to the Erez border crossing between Israel and Gaza. A half dozen journalists and I were the only people seeking entry into Gaza. The crossing seemed old hat to them, while for me it was an adventure. The Israeli Foreign Ministry had assured me the day before that my name was still on the list of those permitted to enter Gaza. The young solider behind the counter staring lazily at the computer screen before him, however, first told me that my name was not on the list and made a phone call. He next said that my name was on the list, but I had to wait while they checked things out. Another phone call. Still later, I was told that my name was on the list but my permission had expired on May 15, 2006. (I had only applied for permission in October, a month previously.) A few more people filtered into the transit room as I waited patiently. Still later, after checking by phone with higher ups for the umpteenth time, the soldier smiled, handed me my passport, and stated without any explanation that there was no problem for me to enter Gaza after all.

Finished with the Israeli army step, I next handed my passport to another soldier six feet down the counter. She asked my reason for visiting and advised me it was unsafe to travel to Gaza. When I told her I was visiting a non-governmental organization, she asked why I would do that. I told her I supported their work. She asked if I work for them and if I have any friends in Gaza. Finally, she wanted to know if I had a business card demonstrating that I work for an NGO.

I handed her a personal business card with no mention of a non-profit organization. She looked at it quizzically, raised her eyebrows, handed it back to me, and said, “Have a nice trip!”

I had permission to pass through Erez into Gaza and there was almost nobody else at the crossing facility. Still, it took me over an hour and a half to clear the Israeli procedures. All of this fuss was occasioned by my entering a territory from which the Israelis had “disengaged” more than a year ago. I understand the need for nations to control who enters their country. It’s not entirely clear, however, why Israel would be so concerned with my visiting Palestinian Gaza. If they thought I was smuggling Qassam rockets into Gaza, they would at least have looked into my bag. Instead, the civilian employee from a private security firm simply waved me past without so much as a glance into my shoulder bag.

I passed through a series of turnstiles and then made my way several hundred yards through a concrete corridor. The two-lane street was lined by the same eight-meter high concrete sections that Israel uses to build the “separation wall” through the West Bank. There were concrete benches as part of the foot of the wall for long sections, should one tire, and corrugated iron provided cover from the heat or rain. As I approached the Palestinian end of the passageway, the wall was lower and funkier. A single Arab porter waited at the halfway point with a neon vest and a wheel chair.

At the other end of the course way, uniformed Palestinian border officials were sitting around a simple table under a metal awning with a couple of men in civilian clothes. They were chatting and drinking tea. As I approached, they smiled and welcomed me to Palestine without getting up, then wrote my name by pen in a lined register book. Getting into Gaza, as opposed to leaving Israel, took all of two minutes. They weren’t concerned the least bit about what I might be carrying into Palestine, and didn’t ask to look in my bag.

A translator and guide from the Gaza Community Mental Health Program and the Union of Women’s Health Committees in Gaza, along with a police escort, waited for me on the Palestinian side of the border. They motioned for me to sit in the front passenger seat of a small white station wagon. For the next two days, I traveled with a police car in front and a heavily armed security detail from the Palestinian Authority’s Interior Ministry in a pickup behind. With blue lights flashing and sirens blaring, I’m still not sure if I was any safer for all the effort. But anybody gunning for me definitely knew we were coming. Children rushed to the street to see the passing attraction. They must have been disappointed to see only me waving back at them.

We made stops at a demolished mosque in the town of Beit Hanoun, at a home where 19 people had been killed ten days before and a hospital in Jebaliya Refugee Camp, and Gaza City. We rushed from site to site because I was scheduled to meet with Palestinian Prime Minister Ismai’l Haniyeh shortly after noon.

When we pulled up in front of a tall office building in busy Gaza City, armed security milled around with a dozen members of the press awaiting our arrival. Several dozen other curious passersby waited to see what was going on. The Prime Minister’s staff greeted us and led us quickly up two short flights of steps and into the building. I noticed several men on their knees in prayer in a room off to the right as we hurried by, lest I forget that I’d soon be meeting with the elected head of the Hamas government. The elevator failed to move for several minutes despite multiple pushes of the button. We joked nervously when the elevator not only failed to rise but the door wouldn’t open to let us out. Finally, the man accompanying us hit the red button and a loud alarm sounded. I imagined an onslaught of armed security forces converging on the elevator, but no one seemed to notice. We soon exited the elevator on an upper floor into a spacious office suite with golden brown rug and overstuffed sofas and men in suits standing around. A few minutes later I was ushered into the Prime Minister’s office.

Part 2 will appear in the March issue.

ACTION: Join an Interfaith Peace-Builders delegation to Israel/Palestine. IFPB upcoming delegation dates: March 17 - 31, 2007; May 26 - June 9, 2007; July 28 - August 11, 2007; November 3 - November 17, 2007, Contact;

The author is Coordinator, Middle East Program, for the Resource Center for Nonviolence, Santa Cruz, CA.;