Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Field Trip to AFSC!

Today our downtown office had a visit from high school students and faculty of one of our favorite Atlanta are schools, the Horizon's school!

They came to experience our Windows and Mirrors exhibit, which highlights the human impact of America's longest war in history, the war in Afghanistan.

Students took the time to walk the gallery and take in all the pieces. We later facilitated a discussion about the pieces that spoke to each student the most. I was really impressed by the focus and articulation that students put into describing their reactions to seeing the art. It was clear that, for the group, Windows and Mirrors accomplished what it set out to, it opened a window into the realities of the war experience in a time when war's realities are often hidden, it acted as a reflection to the roll we all play in systems of violence and oppression.

Tim Franzen
American Friends Service Committee

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Palestinian UN Bid: US Should Press for Peace, Not Punishment

Joint Statement of the American Friends Service Committee (AFSC), the Friends Committee on National Legislation (FCNL), and the Quaker United Nations Office in New York (QUNO)

We are gravely concerned that the response of the Obama administration and Congress to the Palestinian quest for statehood recognition at the United Nations will further fuel violent conflict in the Middle East. Rather than punish Palestinians for pursuing an international forum for addressing their right to self-determination, the United States should welcome this non-violent approach and use its diplomatic influence and resources to leverage the political opening toward securing a comprehensive and lasting resolution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

The Obama administration’s plan to veto Palestine’s anticipated U.N. membership application regrettably signals the continuation of U.S. policy that obstructs Palestinian self-determination and undermines prospects for Israeli-Palestinian peace. Many members of Congress are proposing the elimination of development and humanitarian assistance for Palestinians and the withholding of all funding to U.N. programs that recognize any upgrade to the status of the Palestinian mission. Threats to unjustly punish Palestinians and possibly even the entire U.N. system in response to decisions by U.N member states on Palestine will only undermine security for Israelis and Palestinians and amplify the voices of extremists on all sides of the conflict.

Palestinians’ Turn to the U.N. Reflects Failure of U.S.-led Negotiations

As a matter of international law and practice, the Palestinians, like any other aspiring peoples seeking statehood recognition, have the right to present their case to the international community. The legitimacy of this effort was referenced a year ago by President Obama himself when he stated forthrightly before the U.N. General Assembly the goal of securing “an agreement that can lead to a new member of the United Nations, an independent, sovereign state of Palestine living in peace with Israel”.

Unfortunately, the U.S.-brokered process for resolving the conflict has failed to reach this goal, and in fact, led to further deterioration of the conflict over the past year. Negotiations collapsed only a month after President Obama’s speech at the U.N., and Israeli settlement expansion has continued at an alarming rate, claiming de facto territory that under international law and longstanding U.S. policy should belong to a future Palestinian state. With negotiations stalled and settlements expanding, the Palestinian leadership has chosen to take its case for statehood to
the United Nations.

Nonviolence Should Be Welcomed, Not Punished

Millions of peoples across the Middle East and North Africa are employing nonviolent means to bring about widespread, far-reaching reforms in support of more transparent, democratic selfgovernance. Nonviolent approaches to Palestinian self-determination at the U.N. and in both the
Palestinian territories and Israel should similarly be encouraged.

In this context, we urge the U.S. to use its voice and vote at the U.N. to welcome the Palestinian initiative for its nonviolent approach to self-determination and conflict resolution.

While Palestinian civil society leaders and the Palestinian Authority have committed to a path of nonviolence in September, the specter of violence in the aftermath of decisions at the U.N. looms large. We are opposed to the use of violence by all parties, and are deeply troubled by reports that the Israeli military has permitted the use of violence to confront unarmed, Palestinian demonstrators at protests expected to coincide with U.N. deliberations on Palestine.

Next Steps for the U.S.: Seize Opportunity to Take Bold Steps for Peace

The Obama administration and Congress should craft any U.S. policy response in ways which uphold the U.S. commitments to international law, self-determination, and the continued search for justice and security for both Israelis and Palestinians.

Recommendations for the Obama administration:

  • Use U.S. voice and vote at the U.N. to welcome the use of nonviolent approaches rooted in international law to resolve conflict. A lone U.S. veto in the Security Council would be a sharp rebuke to Palestinian nonviolence and would undermine the rising forces of democracy and nonviolence throughout the Middle East.
  • Call on all parties to exercise maximum restraint in the aftermath of the deliberations at the U.N. on Palestine.
  • Invest in high-level diplomatic energy to press for comprehensive negotiations in good faith between Israel and a unified Palestinian government, encouraging rather than impeding Palestinian reconciliation efforts.

Recommendations for Congress:

  • Reject H.R. 2829, The United Nations Transparency, Accountability, and Reform Act of 2011 introduced by Representative Ros-Lehtinen, which unjustly punishes not only Palestinians, but the entire U.N. system and all those around the world who benefit from its life-saving programs.
  • Reject cuts to U.S. development and humanitarian aid for Palestinians, which would only increase the potential for further violence in the region.

Toward a Just and Lasting Peace

We urge the Obama administration and Congress to avoid retaliatory measures against the Palestinians that would increase political despondency at this critical juncture, and instead demonstrate U.S. leadership to press for a comprehensive negotiated settlement that offers a path toward lasting peace and security for all.

The Religious Society of Friends (Quakers) has worked for more than a century to promote a just and lasting peace in the Middle East. FCNL and AFSC are national Quaker organizations that are committed to pressing the United States to play a more constructive role in resolving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. QUNO represents the global community of Quakers at the United Nations in New York. Our work is rooted in historic Quaker testimonies on peace and equality and longstanding Quaker witness in the region.

Windows and Mirrors Gets a Visit From Fourth Graders!

On the eve of the Atlanta leg of the national Windows and Mirrors national art exhibit we had the pleasure of hosting a fourth grade class from the Atlanta Friends School. As some may know the Atlanta Friends School hosted three of the Windows and Mirrors art panels, which was enough to make students curious to see the rest of them at our downtown office.

In the two hours the students spent viewing the exhibit they had an assignments, which they were all eager to complete. They were asked to pick the five panels that spoke the most to them and explain why.

We also did a group activity with the group designed to spark dialogue about our connection to the war in Afghanistan and the personal power wall all have to recognize, act against, ignore, or facilitate systems of violence and oppression in our communities and around the world.

Each art panel in the exhibit is a window into the realities of war in Afghanistan, a window into the horror and despair, and a window into the hope and resilience of the Afghan people.

Each panel is a mirror that reflects our responsibility for each bullet, each bomb, each death. It's a reflection of our obligation to change the direction in Afghanistan, to build schools instead of tanks, to recruit Afghan youth to grow food and build infrastructure, instead of recruiting low income American youth to police Afghanistan with the barrel of a gun. We have the power to look through these windows, to reflect, to change.

Tim Franzen
American Friends Service Committee

Monday, September 19, 2011

Arab Spring, From Atlanta to the Middle East.

Over the past ten months the whole world has watched many in the Arab world revolt against the tight grip of social and economic injustices.

Images that have come to the rest of the world through social networking sights and mainstream media have been inspiring, iconic, and sometimes even horrifying.

While many have a strong sense of optimism it's clear that the dust has far from settled in the Middle East.

Over the course of the last ten months we've seen dozens of solidarity demonstrations right here in Atlanta. Arab American communities have organized solidarity actions for revolutionary activities in Egypt, Syria, and Libya.

It's been exciting to see these communities coming together and uniting their voices for the common cause of freedom for their brothers, sisters, parents, and children. Many in these communities don't consider themselves immigrants, but rather refugees who were left little choice in fleeing the country they once called home.

During the dozens of solidarity demonstrations in Atlanta one could really feel the excitement, and at times despair, from those who had loved ones in the Middle East. Many times as demonstrations were winding down, and folks were packing stuff up, a few organizers of the demonstrations would stick around and talk about how things went and whether or not another demonstration should be set up. One question was asked week after week, "Where do we go from here?", or, "can we do more than just set up solidarity demonstrations"?

It was out of this spirit that about a dozen or so leaders from several Arab American communities in Atlanta gathered at the American Friends Service Committee office several months ago to contemplate answering the question of, "where do we go from here".

I had the honor of being invited to that meeting, and the series of meetings that followed. Folks with ties to the Egyptian, Tunisian, Syrian, Libyan, and Palestinian community came to consensus on the need for a larger community event with a few simple goals which included:

1.Creating space where Arab American Communities that had not worked together in the past could come together and build community.

2. Discuss the current state of Arab Spring in the Middle East.

3. Have discussion about what role Arab Americans in Atlanta can play.

The event, entitled, “Arab Spring from Atlanta to the Middle East”, just went down this past Saturday and it was a big success. Over seventy people showed up. The event took place during AFSC's acclaimed, "Windows and Mirrors" exhibit, which lended a powerful back drop to the community event.

After a viewing of the short film, created by Sherif Morad, attendees heard reports from several special guests including Shahir Raslan, Amir Ahmed, and Abdullah Bourgeba, all who shared reports.

The last part of the day's program was a brief town hall style meeting where folks brainstormed answers to the question, "where do we go from here?". While there was a diversity of ideas, everyone agreed that there are many exciting opportunities to build a local Arab American voice in Atlanta, a much need voice of political advocacy. Everyone agreed that there are very local issues that a united Arab American community would be able to take on.

When folks that attended where asked to take on specific tasks to further the formation of an Arab American political advocacy group almost everyone in the room raised their hand for one task of another.

It was a day where the relevance of actions taken thousands of miles away was thick in the air.

Check out Sherif Morad's short film that he put together just for the event below:

Tim Franzen
American Friends Service Committee