Since the 2016 presidential election and with the advent of the #MeToo movement, more women have empowered enough to share their secrets - of sexual abuse, harassment, and rape. This movement has elevated the subject of the violation of women and girls to this nation and enjoined them to other countries, and cultures which accept as a norm the abject treatment of women, girls, and boys who are regarded as little more than chattel.Read More
Henry Louis Gates, Jr. explains how reparations originally stipulated that freed slaves would receive “400,000 acres of land — a strip of coastline stretching from Charleston, South Carolina, to the St. John’s River in Florida, including Georgia’s Sea Islands and the mainland thirty miles in from the coast,” as Barton Myers reports — would be redistributed to the newly freed slaves.”Read More
In 2019 we should not be discussing the merits of why a presidential candidate’s “slave status” is determinative. Journalists should not need to write about Kamala Harris and how a Tweet posted and then deleted implies that she is lying about being “descended from American Black Slaves,” when they say she actually “comes from Jamaican Slave Owners.” Yet, we are talking about these things, as though these are new, but they are only new to most of us because this history is not taught in public or private schools. It is ironic that a West Indies slave owner, Willie Lynch (from whom the term lynching is derived), speaks most clearly to our current state of disgrace. But, rather than my paraphrasing, I am posting the full text of his letter for all to read. It is painfully illustrative of what is broken and its genesis.Read More
A mother or father deserves justice when their child has been raped and they should not have to fight with the courts to have the perpetrator sentenced as prescribed by the law. A single-mother should not be judged as somehow complicit in her child’s sexual abuse simply because she finds herself in the unfortunate position of having to work outside of the home to support her family.Read More
While many Olympic runners raise their arms as they approach the finish line, few do so as a demonstration of political protest. Ethiopian runner Feyisa Lilesa joined this elite group of politically charged Olympic athletes such as Tommie Smith and John Carlos when he crossed his arms at the end of the Men’s Marathon during the Rio Olympics. While Tommie Smith and John Carlos raised their fists in a Black Power salute during the awards ceremony, Feyisa Lilesa crossed his arms at the end of the race to demonstrate his allegiance with the Oromo people as they continue a centuries long clash with the Ethiopian government. What looked like a stretch to many Olympic observers was really a powerful demonstration that resulted from many years of unrest and political strife. Photo: Feyisa Lilesa, Ethiopian Olympian, Oromo Activist, Rio 2016 Olympics, Photo by Jeso CarneiroRead More
No one should have to pay for the crimes of others, or be condemned simply because they share skin tone, profession, or religious affiliation. America isn’t that far removed from a time when Blacks, Native Americans, Jews, Catholics, Mormons and others had no legal recourse for being discriminated against. But we as a country and society have made great strides. However, in the last few days, much to the dismay and horror of the majority of Americans, the disenfranchised have chosen to discard reason and rational discourse to engage in ex-judicial violence.Read More
CENTRAL AFRICA - Since late March, the United Nations (UN) has come under fire on allegations that peacekeepers committed acts of sexual violence against civilian populations. The advocacy group, AIDS-free-world, made several leaked documents public in March of 2016 which implicated French soldiers and UN peacekeepers in acts of sexual abuse against the populations they were sent to protect. A large portion of these claims come from the Central African Republic, where French soldiers were deployed to help quell internal violence that began in 2013. The first allegations pre-date the establishment of the UN sanctioned peacekeeping mission, known as the Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in the Central African Republic (MINUSCA), which was authorized by the UN Security Council in April of 2014. Most of these were directed against French military personnel who were assisting African Union regional stabilization forces. Accusations of sexual abuse against peacekeepers from France, Gabon and Burundi were, however, reported after the establishment of MINUSCA and implicated the UN and its administration. Though many of these accusations are still under investigation, this information highlights the structural flaws within the UN that would allow such heinous acts to happen in the first place.
The current reports of sexual abuse are not the first the international organization has had to address. Sexual abuse on peacekeeping missions has been an ongoing problem within the UN system dating back to stabilization efforts in Cambodia during 1992. Most subsequent missions have also had at least some reports of misconduct, rape or abuse. With few exceptions, most accused perpetrators receive little to no punishment. This is because the UN itself, being an international organization, lacks any sort of power to legally prosecute individuals. Prosecution of criminal acts must be done by individual countries, and peacekeepers on a mission cannot be prosecuted by the host country in which they serve due to diplomatic immunity. Peacekeepers can only be prosecuted by their home country from which they originate. Most troop contributing countries for peacekeeping operations have, however, been reluctant to investigate and prosecute accused soldiers.
This leaves two questions regarding the widespread misconduct and sexual abuse. First, why has the UN been ineffective in addressing the structural challenges that allow such acts to manifest? Second, why are troop contributing countries reluctant to punish their own soldiers, especially in instances where misconduct is clear? The answers to these questions can come from current UN officials themselves. Parfait Onanga-Anyanga, UN Special Representative to the Central African Republic, said in an interview with Foreign Policy Magazine that “countries aren’t exactly queuing to contribute troops to peacekeeping missions.” This means that any measures that the UN might put forth, such as expelling contingents of troops with multiple allegations, would cause a backlash from those who provide troops and cut off a much needed resource. Thus politics often comes into play when addressing these types of allegations at the New York Headquarters.
In terms of holding soldiers accountable in their home country, we often see a lack of political will and capacity. Less than five percent of allegations end up with the home country of the soldiers legally prosecuting them. There has been a long held observation that those countries that do contribute soldiers often prioritize domestic legal matters as opposed to those that happen in a different country. Likewise, most troop contributing countries are unwilling to admit any wrong-doing or are unable pursue trial because the evidence collected by the UN does not meet national standards needed to prosecute. Thus, we are left with a situation where soldiers know they practically have immunity in certain cases of rape and other human rights abuses. Lewis Mudge of Human Rights Watch himself said: “They know very well that, legally, the hands of national authorities and the United Nations are tied.”
We are left with a sensitive political situation that may threaten the efficacy of current and future peacekeeping operations. While certain solutions, such as the suggestion to collect DNA from all soldiers for paternity testing might have some impact, the international community is still faced with the lack of political will, mostly on the part of troop contributing countries. Pressing or coercing such countries to prosecute their soldiers might backfire, and peacekeeping missions could end up understaffed. Again, this result could actually do more harm than good and might potentially destabilize the country in which justice is sought. The international community might be better served to address these problems by better connecting troop contributing countries to potential solutions. One such example is Hervé Ladsous’s proposal for a specialized military court in countries hosting peacekeeping operations. It was not said who should staff these theoretical courts, but perhaps allocating spots for those who contribute the most soldiers to the host country might create political will to hold peacekeepers who commit heinous acts of abuse accountable.
ASIA - The phenomena of child marriage, the taking or marrying off a girl at an age that is well below what modern society deems socially acceptable, sounds like a practice that belongs in a history book rather than in the twenty-first century. However, though hard to believe, the practice not only exists in these modern times, but also that it is thriving. In fact, emerging evidence indicates that the marrying off these child brides is becoming more widespread in many parts of the world. Whether due to socioeconomic pressures or to cultural preferences, the world is witnessing a steady resurgence of the practice of child marriages in places such as Africa, the Middle East, and now more prevalent in Asia.
One country in particular which has experienced an increase in the number of child marriages is poverty-stricken Bangladesh. This country has been identified in a report by the International Center for Research of Women (ICRW) as number 3 on a list of the top 20 countries with the highest incidents of child brides. This is because nearly 68.7% of all Bangladeshi girls under the age of 18 are married off to older men. The drastic rise in the practice has become so prevalent in recent years that researchers describe it as a full-blown “epidemic”. According to current estimates, nearly one third of girls in the country are married off before they reach the age of 15. This figure is staggering, and girls who are married off at such a young age often face high rates of domestic abuse, increased risks in childbirth, and the prospect of life-long poverty. Unfortunately, in many rural areas of countries with emerging economies young women are often considered a burden. It is these societal standards which is sanctioned and even encouraged that families use to justify pressing their young daughters into marriage to older men.
Concomitant factors such as poverty, lack of education, and the destabilization of the economy from natural disasters like typhoons, which are known for causing widespread destruction in Southeast Asian countries, also play a role in propagating acceptance of this practice. Parents often resort to marrying off their daughters in order to save money to pay for the education of their sons who are seen as better able to support the family once they reach the age of maturity. Bangladesh is not the only country to face the ever increasing problem of child marriage. Afghanistan is another country in the region known to the world as a region of innumerable human rights abuses.
Many of these abuses are due to complex forces, such as the oppressive patriarchal culture, the violent influence of the Taliban, and the subjugation of women who are often publicly executed. Given these influences the marriage of young girls to older men seems a foregone conclusion. Here, and most notably in the country's north-eastern province of Badakhshan, women experience the most extreme lack of independence. In this nation plagued by chronic food shortages, brought about by decades-long conflicts in the region, girls are being sold and traded off at an alarming rate. The money that the families get for the sale of their daughters enable them to purchase food, livestock, or other necessities.
The situation is particularly bleak in Badakhshan which according to a report by the United Nations (U.N.). Young girls experience some of the highest rats of abuses and death at the hands of their husbands who are often decades their senior. These men repeated and violently rape their young brides, who once they become pregnant do not allow them to access prenatal care with the intention of isolating these girls. According to the ICRW young girls are most afflicted by the following.
- Premature Pregnancy: Child brides almost always bear children before they are physically - or emotionally - ready.
- Maternal Mortality: Girls younger than 15 are five times more likely to die during child birth or pregnancy than older women. Pregnancy-related deaths are the leading cause of mortality for girls aged 15 to 19 worldwide.
- Infant Mortality: Mortality rates for babies born to mothers under age 20 are almost 75% higher than for children born to older mothers. The children that survive are more likely to be premature, have a low birth weight, and are more at risk for contracting HIV/AIDS.
- Health Problems: Premature childbirth can lead to a variety of health problems for mothers, including fistula, a debilitating condition that causes chronic incontinence. Girls with fistula are often abandoned by their husbands and ostracized by society. There are approximately 2 million girls living with fistula, and 100,000 new cases every year.
- HIV/AIDS: Married girls may be more likely to contract sexually transmitted disease, including HIV/AIDS, than unmarried girls. Young girls are more physically susceptible to STD's, have less access to reproductive education and health services and are often powerless to demand the use of contraception. (Source: ICRW)
Girls under the age of 15 are most at risk to this tragic outcome because of their physical immaturity. These young girls also face the specter of contracting HIV from infected husbands. Experts are in agreement that the best way to counter this growing trend is by working to alleviate the country's desperately crippled economy.
While the prevalence of the practice is closely associated with poverty and destruction, this is not true in every country. China, for example, has experienced steady economic growth in the past several decades. Despite its overall financial stability, the country is also experiencing a rise in the number of child marriages. The increase in this practice is largely driven by political factors such as the long-standing one-child policy. This policy, first enacted in the late 1970's to alleviate China's issue with unchecked population growth, has in fact resulted in a problematic and wide scale gender imbalance. Thus, the country now has approximately 33 million more men than women in the country. Despite this, the cultural bias toward boys remains, particularly in the rural areas where parents routinely force their daughters to marry young so that they aren't a financial burden to the family.
Additionally, China’s gender gap has led to a dramatic rise in the rates of human trafficking. Young girls are being sold or kidnapped then smuggled out of the country to neighboring Vietnam. Those who aren't 'lucky' enough to be sold for purposes of marriage, face the horrifying specter of sex slavery. These girls, as young as 13-years-old, are sometimes sold by their parents who have been solicited by the smugglers to sell their daughters who are subsequently drugged as a means of controlling them while they are removed from their homes. The girls are then marketed to potential buyers and sold for the deplorable price of $3,000 or less.
Sadly, with the continued growth of China, and the growing need for increased human capital to produce low costs products which the West is increasing dependent upon. This has resulted in the rise of another type of enslavement of girls and women in the manufacturing sectors found in cities like Shanghai, Beijing, Tianjin, Guangzhou, and Shenzhen. Often chained to their work stations for up to 16 hours a day, they are not even allowed bathroom breaks in order to maximize high production at low costs.
The documentary 'Santa's Workshop' provides a chilling look into the abuse of the laborers in many Chinese factories. The majority of these workers are children and women. Thus, it is unfortunate and disheartening to realize that for a female to make it to adulthood having escape sexual enslavement or child marriage, is not a guarantee of avoiding future exploitation. There are many organizations dedicated to advocating for the rights of child brides, women, and forced labor, but this abuse, irrespective of the fact that it is occurring in locations quite foreign to us, should in no way inure us to the suffering these girls and women face. Nor to our obligation to remain engaged in trying to make a difference, even if this difference is as simple as sharing these statistics and stories with friends, family, and associates. In so doing we may become more conscious and conscientious, two things which help to complete us as human beings.
ISRAEL - It is always the innocent who end up suffering the most, no matter what the conflict happens to be. This is a sad reality of the world we live in, and one in which we are confronted with daily, because of an increase in global conflict, terrorism, and the instability of nations. Weaponized hatred and terror has significantly increased in the present day, as leaders of extremists’ groups radicalize individuals and deploy them in unexpected attacks which are difficult to predict. The inability to anticipate these attacks has resulted in nations being forced to introduce stringent security measures that are more restrictive on innocent citizens, but at the same time fail in curtailing the acts of real terrorists, who often slip through undetected.
The recent terror attacks in Paris and Brussels are both examples of radicals who inflicted mayhem in a misguided attempt to express their loyalty to groups like ISIS. These individuals were easily manipulated into committing a series of reprehensible acts; acts which were concocted without any real goal in mind other than to instill terror, confusion, and suspicion. Unlike true revolutionaries, who have set and clearly defined objectives (which may at times result in violence), and whose methods are usually meant to garner support for their cause, these radicals are primarily focused only on differentiating themselves from whatever element they strove to rebel against. In short, their acts of terror promise peace if only the citizens would choose their cause over that of the incumbent government. Usually, nothing could be farther from the truth as citizen’s usually replace the devil they know with an equally deceptive regime.
It is a sad matter of fact, but domestic and international terrorists are only increasing in their attempts to target America, the E.U., Africa, Asia, and the Middle East. Indeed, few places in the world now seem off limits. At times, it seems as if these terrorists enjoy a twisted pleasure in targeting innocent men, women, and children- regardless of their country of origin, background, or religion. When people think of terrorism, they usually associate it with organization such as ISIS or Al-Qaeda. In reality, however, these groups are not always behind the attacks. There are just as many attacks by ‘lone’ wolves (individuals who act on their own accord) who seek revenge for real or perceived offences. Such was the case with Yosef Haim Ben David, an Israeli settler who orchestrated the murder of 16-year-old Mohammed Abu Khdair, who was beaten and burned alive in the summer of 2014. By his own admission, Ben David admitted that Khdair’s murder was largely in response to Hussam Qawasmeh’s kidnapping and murder of three Israeli teens in the West Bank in that same year. These examples are particularly worthwhile to note, because they go to highlight the fact that acts of terror are not always attributed to any one side or the other. Instead, they should be seen for what they are - baseless crimes of hate. Blame for these actions should be placed squarely on the person or persons who are solely responsible for perpetrating these heinous acts.
On Tuesday, 19 April 2016, the BBC News reported that the ringleader in the murder of Abu Khdair was found guilty by an Israeli court. Ben David has yet to be sentenced, but judgement is anticipated to be harsh and followed by a lengthy prison sentence. Meanwhile, in a similar case, The New York Times reported on January 6, 2015 that Hussam Qawasmeh, the Palestinian behind the Kidnap and Murder of the 3 Israeli teens, received 3 consecutive life sentences for his role in the murders. Both cases are extreme examples of people who acted on their own accord; individuals who took out their anger on innocent bystanders, in a misguided attempt to inflict pain on those whom they perceived as having harmed or insulted them. While they truly believed they were furthering the agendas of their governments, the fact of the matter is that in reality they had little or no insight into the broader political and security process which governments take into consideration when combating terrorism. The heinous acts committed by these men are theirs alone, and for these crimes they have been judged and found guilty. It is a case in which respect for and protection of human rights trumped all other agendas.
By the same note, it is the job of respective governments to strive to put aside their differences when confronting the global threat from extremists. World powers must unite in this endeavor, and the responsibility of overcoming these threats must be shared. Great examples of this can be seen through the workings of countries such as India and Pakistan, who have recently learned to cooperate in tackling this issue. Just this past month, for example, The Indian Express reported that intelligence from Pakistan’s security apparatus was shared with its long-time rival, India, in preventing a large-scale terror attack from being carried out on Indian soil. This selfless act undoubtedly helped to save lives and must be praised for showing what can be achieved when countries work in setting aside their personal differences, and instead choose to protect innocent civilians - regardless of their creed or nationality. Countries in Africa, Asia, and the Middle East can (and indeed should) all learn to follow suit, because It’s not too late.
What people must now come to a consensus on is that tragedy should cease to be politicized. Pain is not a zero-sum game. One tragedy, should not work in taking away from another. Nor should it justify it. In this sense, the pain and strife which has befallen the Palestinian people, for example, should not take away from the pain and strife which is now unfolding in Israel. Both sides are equally right in hurting, and both sides must learn to empathize with the other. Only in this way, will real progress be made. Not only in the now decades-old Israeli-Palestinian conflict, but also throughout the traumatized region.
EUROPEAN UNION - White House press secretary , Josh Ernest, told media members in 2015, that President Obama directed his team to get prepared to admit at least 10,000 refugees into the United States by the end of the next fiscal year. Since the civil war started in Syria, millions of civilians have been displaced and millions have fled the country. Yet, to date, “U.S. government data shows that just under 2,200 Syrian refugees have been admitted into the United States since the civil war broke out in March of 2011, and the vast majority of those were in the 2014.
The administration has acknowledged that processing resettlement applications is a slow and laborious task, which has kept the United States from accepting as many applicants as it would like to.” (Source: CNN) Many people blame this delay on the onerous requirements refugees from North Africa and the Middle East face, because of security concerns due to these areas being predominantly Muslim and the people from these areas being considered as potential security risks. However, many of these individuals are truly seeking asylum from the increasing violence inflicted upon them because they refuse to bow down to the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria otherwise known as ISIS. They, like the rest of the world, find terrorism just as reprehensible as we do.
"An estimated 9 million Syrians have fled their homes since the outbreak of civil war in March 2011, taking refuge in neighboring countries or within Syria itself. According to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), over 3 million have fled to Syria's immediate neighbors Turkey, Lebanon, Jordan and Iraq. 6.5 million are internally displaced within Syria. Meanwhile, under 150,000 Syrians have declared asylum in the European Union, while member states have pledged to resettle a further 33,000 Syrians. The vast majority of these resettlement spots – 28,500 or 85% – are pledged by Germany." (Source: UNHCR) Meanwhile, several countries in the Middle East have also absorbed Syrian refugees, notably "Turkey, 249,726 in Iraq, 629,128 in Jordan, 132,375 in Egypt, 1,172,753 in Lebanon, and 24,055 elsewhere in North Africa.”
Germany which took in 476,000 refugees claims that in 2015 there were actually at least 1 million refugees with asylum claims in their processing system. There have always been migrants trying to make it across the Mediterranean or Aegean Sea seeking a better life in Europe. But, because of the alacrity with which this migration has occurred, and the sheer numbers, most countries have implemented more stringent border control measures. The issue of human trafficking and the exploitation of these refugees, though an equally critical issue, is often ignored and under-reported.
In order to avoid the risks of exploitation, or their inability to come up with the money demanded for transport, desperate people have begun to utilize boats which aren't seaworthy to try and navigate to freedom. It has been reported that in some cases the sinking of boats have been as the result of direct attacks from Greek Coast Guard who try to prevent the refugees from reaching shore by shooting at their vessels. The tragedy is that in fleeing a death they may have faced in their countries of origin, they none-the-less end up dying and buried in watery graves, or washed ashore to be collected like flotsam.
Though refugees have been dying for years because of unseaworthy vessels, the magnitude of the numbers of people drowning as they attempt to cross and illegally enter Europe is now staggering. The perils that they face only recently became a reality when photographer, Nilufer Demir , took a picture of a three-year-old Syrian boy, Aylan Kurdi, when his body washed ashore in one of the most popular tourist towns in Turkey, Bodrum in Izmir. The photo which was taken in September 2015 raised a public uproar as it circulated the world through news networks, online media, and social media. The tragedy was further compounded, when it was discovered that his older brother also drowned his body washed up on the beach just 50 meters from his baby brother. Turkish coast guards subsequently recovered an additional 10 bodies from the same accident.
A yacht captain in Bodrum, Turkey, who sails along Greek Islands for a tourism company, said everyone knows how it works. People all know where to get together. The bay has become a migration transit point. Yet, they are not stopped until they sail off, and eventually sink as a result of overload, insufficient equipment, “People are desperate. They are already escaping a war; water does not really scare them. When I go to port to pick up a passenger for our tours, someone always offer some money to me to get them to Kos Island. The money they offer is thousands of Euros,” he said. “No sensible person would take such a risk and responsibility. In most cases, people go ahead and buy their own inflatable boat, sometimes a very old fishing boat. They are always overloaded with people, and safety is not the priority. Eventually, in open waters a small mistake sinks the overloaded boat. (Source: Elvan Katmer)
"Some of the worse tragedies in 2015 included:
- Two boats carrying about 500 migrants sank after leaving Zuwara in Libya on 27 August
- The bodies of 71 people, believed to be Syrian migrants, were discovered in an abandoned lorry in Austria on 27 August
- A shipwreck off Italy's Lampedusa island killed about 800 people on 19 April
- At least 300 migrants are feared to have drowned after attempting to cross the Mediterranean in rough seas in early February
Survivors often report violence and abuse by people traffickers, who charge thousands of dollars per person for their services. The chaos in Libya in particular has given traffickers freedom to exploit migrants and refugees desperate to reach Europe.” (Source: BBC)
Yet, most of the countries which are struggling to absorb the immigrants, many of whom do not speak the language nor understand the cultural nuances required to enable them to assimilate, consider them to be a burden. Because of these limitations, finding and maintaining employment to become contributing members of the societies in which they need to be accepted is all but impossible. This makes refugees easy scapegoats for politicians and right-wing xenophobes and Islamophobians. These individuals and groups through their incendiary rhetoric foment violence against non-citizens with the oft used claims that refugees bring disease, take jobs from nationals, increase the crime rate and are rapist. All these accusations are designed to foment violence against anyone perceived as an immigrant, even if these people are naturalized citizens or second generation nationals who were born in the country.
Unfortunately, Germany is a country that has long been vilified for it human rights violations. Too often the country receives negative news coverage, first because of its barbarous history of Nazism, and second because it has absorbed so many immigrants that many in the government feel over committed. Angela Merkl, the Chancellor of Germany has publicly voiced her opinion that the remainder of the E.U. nations are not making equivalent efforts. In fact, many have closed their borders or implemented such draconian measures as keeping refugees in unsanitary camps, or walling off their borders with barb wire fencing.
Because she is so vociferous and the high incidents of racism and violence against immigrants in Germany, many people perceive the country as callous. But, to only view them in this light doesn’t give the country credit with its successes in assimilating refugees and immigrants. The city of Cologne, which has a population of just over one million, has more than 120,000 practicing Muslim residents and the largest Jewish communities in Germany. (Source: Daily Mail U.K.)
There are many instances in the world where the assimilation of refugees and immigrants has led to more diverse and robust societies However, with increasing global conflicts, conditions in countries in the Middle East and Africa have made it easy to radicalization people as they seek redress for perceived wrongs from their government or foreign powers, or to impose a particular religious view, and even to homogenize and purify their countries and prevent “race mixing.” All of which are shameful, xenophobic, and utterly devoid of compassion.
But, at the heart of each of these dynamics, we must remember that we are dealing with people. With human beings who are just like us and but for circumstances, it would be us. The fact that it is such a massive undertaking to provide the comprehensive help these refugees need should only strengthen our resolve to find a realistic and long-term solution. We must continue to seek and implement solutions to the problems these people face while they still live in their own countries. Whether by more vigorous U.N. or NATO military intervention, or a significant increase in financial support to these war-torn countries through loans from the World Bank or the International Monetary Fund (IMF), the problem though admitted costly must be dealt with. As we have seen, averting disaster is infinitely less expensive than trying to deal with it after the fact.
So, in conclusion, we must keep drowning refugee babies and adults foremost in our thoughts and prayers. It is important that this story remain in the trending news cycles, because when barbarism becomes commonplace, and we become inure to it, we are all well on our way to losing our humanity.
ISRAEL GOLAN HEIGHTS - Located in the country's northern region, is an area renowned for its rugged terrain and beautiful landscapes. It is an expanse of land full of high rising peaks, long-extinct volcanoes, and untold breathtaking views. Few people are aware, however, that it is also an area which is home to a darker and more sinister reality; a reality brought out every so often by reports of randomly exploding cows, and sometimes- even people. No, I'm not talking about violence brought about by the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, or rockets and mortars launched from nearby Lebanon or war-torn Syria. What I am referring to, however, is a danger brought about by the silent yet deadly remnants of the land's recent and conflict-filled history: landmines and lost munitions.
Few would think that the area in which famous and influential historic figures once lived and roamed, figures such as the biblical prophet Elijah or Jesus of Nazareth, would now be home to more than 2,000 separate minefields, scattered around in almost no specific order.  Many of these minefields are decades old, even predating Israel's conquest and occupation of the Golan Heights, which was captured from its northern neighbor, Syria, at the outbreak of the 1967 war. Others have been planted more recently; their existence justified by the military and security industry as “necessary for self-defense.”  It is not common knowledge however, even among native Israelis, that littered around the region are supposedly more than 260,000 individual anti-personnel and anti-tank mines, not including the untold number of UXO's (“unexploded ordinance”- a technical term for bombs and grenades), which have been left over from a series of wars and conflicts between Israel and its neighbors.
Every year, these landmines and UXO’s pose a risk to both locals and visitors alike. They are “dumb” weapons; unable to differentiate between man or animal, friend or foe, and specialize only in the killing and maiming of those unlucky enough to pick them up or step on them. Sadly, this is an issue which only rarely makes it to the public’s attention. When it does, it is only after grim “accidents” or fatalities occur, like one which took place in 2010 and involved two children, who were injured (one of them severely) after accidentally stumbling into an improperly marked minefield to play in some recently fallen snow. Another incident, occurring just last year, involved a female Israeli Army officer, who lost a leg to a landmine while carrying out work near the Syrian border, after recent heavy rains had swept the mine out of its original location. It's a bitter reality, but people seem to forget that minefields tend to last much longer than the conflicts in which they are needed for.
These recent examples also show another aspect which the issue of landmines brings up: the fact that these weapons are not always confined to one place. They can in fact slowly shift and move around from year to year (especially after heavy rains and soil erosion) and can spill over into areas once deemed “safe”. This is especially true in the Golan Heights, where the area’s elevation and slopes come into play in adding to the soil’s shifting nature. In this way, the landmines are notorious for rendering relatively large areas potentially unusable for decades, and this is a fact that is not lost on the local population, who rely on the region’s already limited land for grazing and agricultural purposes. Since 1967, there have been more than 70 separate instances of people, mostly local Druze and Arab inhabitants, who have been injured or killed by these ever-shifting explosives. Additionally, the mines create a hazard for livestock, and an untold number of cattle and other grazing animals are fatally injured each year by venturing too close to these hidden explosives. 
So how much of the Golan Heights is contaminated by the presence of landmines and UXO’s? Although there is no way to say for certain, conservative estimates place the number at a little more than 9,000 acres (or roughly 14 square miles).  That means 14 square miles of trails, hills, and even populated areas that are all in danger of these little-known but deadly remnants of war. Furthermore, while the presence of landmines and UXO’s in the region is largely overlooked, it is not entirely forgotten. Locals who live in the area are all too familiar with the psychological burden that can come with living among the threat of these explosives; especially after the rainy season, as one can never be certain as to whether or not the rain and elements have led an area to become contaminated. Because of this, the local population lives under permanent stress and uncertainty to the safety of the area around- and even underneath- them. 
Visitors to the area have to be equally vigil and aware of the danger. I should know. In early 2008, while living in Israel and just one month after I had joined the army, I was traveling on a sight-seeing tour of the Golan Heights. While out on a “bathroom break”, I noticed, hidden among the black volcanic rocks, a rusted metallic object. It was an old Mills hand grenade- the type used during World War Two. Without thinking, I picked it up, pocketed it, and brought it home. It was only later that I found out that it was nonfunctional; the explosive element having been removed. Most likely, this grenade was meant to be used for training purposes. Had it been active at the time, I could have easily lost an arm- or worse. All I can say is that I got lucky. I always did have more luck than sense. Others, sadly, are not always so fortunate.
UNITED STATES - In my heart I’ve always wanted to believe that racists are simply radicals who comprise a very small percentage of the population back in my native U.S.A. Sadly, that hope has been increasingly hard to hold onto over the years and it looks like 2015 might just be the year I have to admit that I've been wrong. Sure, there are radicals (and extremists and supremacists) who out-crazy even the most fanatical racists but it looks like lies and IGNORANCE are breeding a brand new army of Americans who may not even self-identify as being racist yet.
The Reluctant Racist
When I say reluctant, I really do mean it. First, because someone very special to me back home in California believes a whole lotta wrong at the moment that is turning them into a racist.
Secondly, because I still want to believe that people are fundamentally good and they just don't have enough information to know better at the moment. The right-wing media in the U.S., coupled with the insanely racist (and completely unqualified to be a politician) Donald Trump, are spouting some crazy things that some Americans are buying into because they believe the media and influencers without doing their own homework.
Instead of digging into topics that really matter and sharing facts and data with the American people, most mainstream media seems content to mislead them. In fact, it’s mostly the liberal news channels and journalists who look beyond the superficial story. The liberals also choose NOT to take rare or isolated or extreme cases and turn those into ‘the new trend’ or ‘the direction America is headed’ when reporting, which is how the media and Trump and recruiting their new racist army.
The topic is too broad to attack on all fronts so I’m going to crack into just two issues:
- The so-called confederate flag
- The negativity surrounding immigrants and the idea of abolishing the 14th amendment
The Confederate Flag
After the race-fuelled mass shooting in a South Carolina church, the U.S. finally rallied to remove the country’s #1 symbol of racism. This important person in my life believes that it is simply a symbol of the South with a rich history dating back to the 1800s. They listened to what the news said without looking into the facts and decided that they are pro-flag. I’m sorry but the only people who should blindly be pro-confederate flag are white supremacists and current or legacy KKK members. But not the people I care about in my life, and certainly not the people in yours.
- The flag everyone is all riled up about is NOT the Confederate Flag
- In the 1800s, the real Confederate Flag went through 3 designs. The first design looked too much like the real American flag and soldiers were confused at times who to shoot at so it was scrapped. The second one included the design people believe to be the confederate flag up where the stars are on the real American flag and replaced the red and white stripes with a symbolic field of pure white. The third rendition added a red band on the right side of the field of white. Again, the real Confederate Flag of the rebels is NOT the one Americans are being shown today.
- The perceived current confederate flag (which in the 1800s was only used by the army in Tennessee on the battlefield towards the end of the war I believe) went away for the most part and was only resurrected in the early 1940s by the race-driven Dixiecrats, the political party dedicated to maintaining segregation between whites and blacks in the South.
- In 1948, the University of Mississippi flew it for the 1st time when white students protested Truman’s civil rights proposals. They hated the thought of being educated alongside black students so this flag became the brand image for racism in Mississippi.
- In 1963, it was raised over the state Capitol of Alabama for the 1st time in history. Alabama Gov. George Wallace raised it in protest against desegregation. He wanted to keep whites and blacks apart, definitively turning it into the #1 symbol of racism in modern-day America.
- It remains the unofficial symbol of the Ku Klux Klan.
My German friend Rando commented, 'Would it be okay for us to fly the swastika over German town halls on special days as it is certainly part of our history, and under Mr. H pre-WW2 the country boomed economically, the VW Beetle was created etc? The confederate flag stands for slavery.'
Mainstream media doesn’t share the facts above, though. Sadly turning more intelligent and generally caring people into reluctant racists. EVERY SINGLE EXAMPLE of the current ‘confederate flag’ being flown in the south has 100% direct ties to racism and oppression. It is NOT a symbol of our fallen brothers in war but that is the bullshit being told by influencers and the media. It doesn’t represent Southern heritage, well at least not one that any American should be proud of. It represents racism and hate, plain and simple. There is no other truth.
Immigration & Foreigners
I was born in Los Angeles, the daughter of a 5th generation immigrant. Our ancestors left their friends, family and possessions behind and came over from Europe in hopes of a better life in the 1860s. Some of our family hails from Ireland and in those times the Irish were despised as the worst sort of immigrants arriving to American shores. During the famous Potato Famine years, close to one million Irish arrived by boat to America. ONE MILLION!
If they washed up in Boston, well that was probably the roughest place to be welcomed to America. English Puritans could trace their lineage back to the Mayflower some 230 years earlier and the city underwent what was described as a ‘social revolution’ because they did not want ‘those Irish people’ in their country.
The Irish didn’t look like them. They wore clothes that were night and day different to the English settlers. They sounded different. They often came over poor and would have to settle into unsanitary conditions. And heaven help them if they only spoke Gaeilge or a Celtic language! All they wanted was a chance to live a better life than was possible in Ireland.
My Mom tells me that our family came over because they ‘wanted to be American.’ To me that means they had hope and ambition and wanted to give their children a better life. They wanted to work hard and live the American Dream. Well, I’ll bet their American Dream didn’t originally include the extra gift-on-arrival of hated and discrimination by Americans who viewed them as outsiders and who wanted that nationality OUT OF AMERICA. Yet they endured, for which I'm thankful because I wouldn't be alive otherwise.
Flash Forward to 2015
Donald Trump and the media tell Americans that today’s generation of immigrants – the new ‘Irish’ if you will – are the worst kind of people. They brainwash Americans to think that ‘those people’ don’t want to be true Americans. The media reports that ‘they’ only want to live for free in America, sucking up hard working taxpayers money, without wanting to embrace the American dream. The media insists that ‘they’ retain their cultural heritage from their homeland, which bugs the hell out of Americans. In fact, the same way it did in the 1800s:
According to one report I read >> 'Wherever they settled, the Irish kept to themselves to the exclusion of everyone else, and thus were slow to assimilate. Americans were thus slow to accept the Irish as equals, preferring instead to judge them by the stereotypes published in newspapers of the day.'
The same way the English Puritans persecuted my own ancestors, today’s cry of ‘go home immigrant’ feels like a 360° loop back around to the 1800s – and again it is turning former immigrants (or the children of immigrants) into a potentially scary breed of reluctant racists. Unless someone is an American Indian, they aren’t natives of the country. U.S. citizens have families who fled their country of origin in hopes of a better life, just like mine did, and just like everyone arriving to our shores today. Why can’t some Americans see that the rhetoric they are espousing is as cruel and unnecessary in 2015 as it was in the 1850s, back when U.S. immigration records indicate that the Irish made up 43% of the foreign-born population?
I’ve lived in Mexico, Spain, India, China and I’ve been living in Hong Kong now for about to a year. I know that the news I read as an expat is different to what Americans back home consume but it’s shocking how many people are jumping on this ‘us versus them’ bandwagon. In fact, the special person in my life who inspired this post has very strong ideas about just how ‘they’ are ruining America, for all the reasons I mentioned the English had (and strangely almost verbatim every single thing in that 'report quote' above!).
Yet the funny thing is that when I asked, the only personal experience with immigrants they've had is beautiful and not hateful or negative. They have Mexican neighbours who emigrated some years back with two sweet children. They applied for and gained their American citizenship and are trying hard to learn English, have just bought their first home, and for all intents and purposes ARE living the American dream, just like my Irish relatives who emigrated in the 1860s.
I just don’t understand why the hearts of some Americans can’t see that these real-life examples right in front of their face are the TRUTH of immigration, instead of blindly supporting the negative view that is never witnessed first-hand but believed because extreme examples are the battle cry of influencers like Donald Trump and the right-wing U.S. media.