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#72 November/December 2003
  65cover.jpg (9041 bytes) In this Issue:
Planetary Spirituality and Berry Picking in Northern Cheyenne Country

How Wars End

Some of the News is Good

Hope Within the Fire

Why Dialogue?

Wheelchairs Restore Shattered Lives

Hymn of Praise

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Planetary Spirituality and Berry Picking in Northern Cheyenne Country
A Personal Perspective by Marya Grathwohl

Marya Grathwohl, a Sister of Saint Francis, graduated from Marian College in Indiana, and earned masters degrees in Creation Spirituality at Mundelein, Chicago, and in Philosophy, Cosmology, and Consciousness at California Institute of Integral Studies in San Francisco. In 1974, she moved to the Crow and Northern Cheyenne Reservations in Montana, where she was adopted into a Crow family, and where she now lives at Prayer Lodge, a center serving Native American women. Passionate about changing human consciousness toward love for the planet, she is writing a book that integrates her transformative experiences with Crow and Northern Cheyenne peoples with insights from the 13.7-billion-year story of the Universe.

It’s late summer in Northern Cheyenne country and the wild berries are ripening along streams and roadways, in draws and bowls in the mountains, anywhere moisture is caught and held by the contours of land. A quiet migration of families begins; quiet because almost nothing is as well-guarded as the location of berry patches where the fruits are known to be especially sweet and juicy and abundant. At berry-picking time private ownership of land surrenders to knowledge of sites passed from mother to daughter, remembered in detail by grandmothers whose faces are maps of wrinkles. Except for bushes growing near homes, berries belong to the whole community.

“We’re hoping to go picking tomorrow,” Vonda, my Northern Cheyenne friend who has taken me as her sister, says. “Making syrup or puddings into the cold and early nights of winter will comfort my old bones.” Next day I’m in the pickup bouncing along dirt tracks across pastures, through a dry streambed, and past the last house on this side of this mountain. Eventually we get there. How Vonda knows where there is baffles me, but here are the berries shining in sunlight.

My first time helping her, I am picking along with several grandchildren. As I reach for the blue-purple chokecherries, the familiar movements carry memories of helping my dad pick raspberries from his patch in the backyard of our Cincinnati home. “Don’t miss any of them,” he’d say, and thinking of mom’s jellies, I didn’t. I scrutinized every branch, looking for the biggest and brightest ones. Here in Northern Cheyenne country, I follow behind the children, stripping the branches bare. We’re eating our share, too.

Suddenly Vonda is picking beside us. “Is everybody remembering what Grandma Nellie taught me?” she asks. Three children and one adult with purple lips all turn to her. “Grandma Nellie always told us to leave some of the best berries for the birds. And if you forgot to put your first big berries on the ground as an offering and a thank-you to Mother Earth and the rain, you can still do that, too.”

We all stop and form a little circle among the bushes. Sifting through our buckets, we choose large berries and place them on the ground. “Hahó,” we say, “thank you.”

I turn back to the chokecherries, trying to pick and think differently. Grandma Nellie’s sense of family somehow included birds. She and her rancher husband worked desperately to coax a dry, cold place in mountains to feed their family. Despite that, or maybe because of it, in her mind and heart she lived within a communion of life that included respect for the needs of birds, something she probably learned from her grandmother. Right here among chokecherries swinging in clusters from leafy branches in the twenty-first century, I feel myself in a circle of five generations of Northern Cheyenne women. Within this circle, I suddenly see how my world defines everything that exists as resources for people only, and for development and profit. In the industrial world I grew up in, no wild creature was considered family. We never left the best raspberries for the birds. Or even thought that cutting down forested areas for housing destroyed others’ homes.

In the Cincinnati Zoo is an exhibit that has no live animals. Instead, it houses photos and two stuffed and mounted birds, the last survivors of their species. Martha the passenger pigeon and Incas the Carolina parakeet lived in this building and died here, Martha on September 1, 1914, and Incas on February 21, 1918. At one time, Martha’s species was the most abundant of all land birds, flying over the eastern half of an entire continent in flocks of billions that darkened the sky. The Carolina parakeet was our only native psittacine; it ate the cockleburs that now plague our south-eastern fields. Today, the cerulean warbler, a blue and white songbird that was once easily spotted in deep eastern U.S. forests, has declined in population by 70 percent since 1966 due to forest degradation for logging and development.

Several years ago, the American Museum of Natural History took a poll of biologists, asking if we are in the middle of a mass species extinction. Seventy percent said yes. In numbers alone, that means fifty to one hundred species are vanishing every day, approximately 1,000 times faster than natural extinction rates; faster than at any time in the last sixty-five million years. Recently a report from eight of the foremost nature organizations indicates that one in eight plant species worldwide is imperiled; in the United States alone, one in three is endangered. Twenty-four percent of all mammals are endangered. Their diminishment and disappearance goes largely unnoticed by most of us. The magnitude of this loss of life is hard for me to grasp. I know that if current trends in species extinction continue, we may lose half of all Earth’s plant and animal species within the next fifty years. But can I imagine that world, that threadbare communion of life? The tiny cerulean warbler’s song may fall silent forever within my lifetime. Will I notice?

We can try to absorb these facts or maybe, in our grief, quietly tuck them away as distant tragedies. (When the Preuss’ Red Colobus Monkey vanished several years ago, it seemed to make no real difference in my daily life.) But can we get a sense of how our powers of imagination, creativity, and love are diminished by their leaving? Can we feel how lonely we’re becoming without them? Rachel Carson called the loneliness a “silent spring.” And hearing her, our hearts felt the chill. We can imagine that silence, now. No raptors lifting on thermals over my home and I may forget how to dare a dream into reality. No prairie grass seeds flung against an autumn full moon and I will feel a loss of hope in my soul. Could we have imagined flight on a planet without birds? What is lost in the soul of a child who never sees a meadow of wildflowers?

When Grandma Nellie was picking berries with her grandmother, she didn’t know what we now do: that all Earth’s species emerged in an immense, slow dance from common ancestors who lived in the seas over three billion years ago. Over time, Earth’s climates and continental movements and predator-prey relationships endowed seeds with power to survive drought and ice, shaped graceful bodies that could swim and fly, and cherished consciousness that kept wolf pups fed and created finely tuned musical instruments. Thanks to the achievements of modern science we in industrial societies now know what indigenous peoples have always known, that we inhabit one planetary home and all of us, all beings, are held as kin within the powers of deep relatedness. Darwin gave us revelation from Earth that gifts us with a most profound spiritual insight: We are all a communion.

Earth spins, circling a star, within a galaxy of about two hundred billion other stars. Pouring across the night sky with creamy beauty, the Milky Way is our familiar galactic home. Grandma Nellie’s people called it Sky Road, a passage for spirit. Within just the last century have we learned that the Milky Way is one of one hundred billion galaxies, all streaming away from each other in a cosmic dance driven by primordial energy we call expansion. In all this grandeur we have yet to find another cerulean warbler or Colobus monkey.

The warbler’s song began in the middle of a star whose fierce heat forged complex chemical elements from simpler elements forged in yet an earlier star. When the second-generation star exploded as a supernova, those elements were blown into neighboring space where another power, gravity, gathered them up over millennia into a planet. That planet would eventually shape from those elements the bones and lungs and muscles of a bird fiercely intent upon finding a mate. These same elements also formed the tuna salad you had for lunch, leaves yellowing and falling in aspen groves, fingers typing this paper, and the eyes and mind reading it. Our kinship line goes back, according to our most recent estimate, 13.7 billion years. The whole Universe is one body.

Walt Whitman intuited this when he said, “A leaf of grass is no less than the journeywork of the stars.” Northern Cheyenne grandmothers forged their intuition of this long and profound communion into a moral ethic: Leave some of the best berries for your other relatives. And studying a cosmology of berries, I am finally learning it, too.

In the Cheyenne language there is no “it.” There is no “he” or “she,” either. Third person singular is indicated by words that specify, that speak of others respectfully as “thou.” These words translate roughly into something like “this one, that one.” I try to imagine living within this language. No it. Always I-thou; never I-it. No inanimate or soul-less beings. “Why should I have [soul] and not the camel?” asks another poet, Mary Oliver. “Come to think of it, what about the maple trees? What about the blue iris? What about all the little stones, sitting alone in the moonlight? What about roses, and lemons, and their shining leaves? What about the grass?” Grass!

When did soul begin in the Universe? Revering a Creator as intimate to the life process as my DNA, I seek spirit everywhere. In this Universe, hydrogen left alone, responsive to the powers of gravity, electromagnetism, and the nuclear forces, eventually turns into a human, awake to self, to soul. How can I have soul if hydrogen doesn’t in some way, too?

What could awake to self, to all souled beings, mean for us today? Because of the reach of human powers into all the planetary and life systems, our decisions today determine which species will make it into the next century. In this century, we are planetary power comparable to climate and continental shift and the predator-prey relationship. This planetary power, which we have never before had, demands of us a planet-sized soul, a planetary spirituality, something very new and challenging and promising for industrialized societies. We have mentors: Walt and Mary and Grandma Nellie, Jesus who counted sparrows, Francis of Assisi who experienced all the others, even elements, as brother and sister.

Humans, I am convinced, are born from this planet hungry, not only for milk and comfort, but also for songs: songs of warblers, the alpha female wolf, water splashing clean over stones. Essence of soul, perhaps. My dad comforted me as an infant on his shoulder, humming the chant of the Volga boatmen, and holding me near the singing canaries mom raised along with four daughters. Perhaps the Universe is also one great song, humming along in elements that bind us all, sounding haunting melodies that sear like ancient origin stories through grass and stones and bone. Picking chokecherries in a late summer sun, I have no idea, of course. I’ll presume intuition. I only know I am leaving some of these best berries for birds, hoping that five generations from now there will still be songs in the nearby trees. And maybe even, in the continent’s eastern forests, nesting cerulean warblers.

Marya asked that this acknowledgement be included: I am grateful to Thomas Berry and Brian Swimme for their unrelenting commitment to Earth’s life community in all its diversity and peril. I have drawn upon their insights and research for this article.

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How Wars End
Book Review by Mac Lawrence

If Albert Einstein was right that either we end war, or war will end us, we humans have two challenges: Don’t start new wars, and learn how to stop them if they start.

It’s easy to start a war. Leaders use proven techniques to sow fear in the people, demonize an enemy, pose war as the only rational response, and convince people that the violence will bring safety and peace. To keep the war going, the leaders call on people’s patriotism and courage, and control what the people know about the war.

But how do you stop a war once it starts? That’s what has preoccupied Helena Meyer-Knapp for a quarter century, and what she writes about in her new book Dangerous Peace-Making, published just as the current war on Iraq began.

Meyer-Knapp, who has degrees from Oxford University and the University of Pennsylvania, currently teaches about war, peace, and politics at Evergreen State College in Olympia, Washington. In her book’s preface, Meyer-Knapp notes: “At the onset, nations and people who chose to begin a war often have little concern for the risks and chaos that will accompany its ending. Since their quarrel is just and their willingness to sacrifice steadfast, victory is assured. But victory cannot, by itself, bring a stop to the killing. No war can end until particular peace-makers decide that the time has come. Furthermore, ‘spoilers’ in the combatant communities are often committed to continued war, making ending it much harder than anyone could have imagined. No matter how urgent the pleas from the wider world, peace has to wait until the leaders or their trusted confidants begin direct talks with enemy leaders, quite likely secret talks, in which they will make real agreements about weapons, land, and power. Even then, ending a war for good is a chaotic and dangerous process.”

Meyer-Knapp analyzes seven wars in her book: Bosnia, Rwanda, Chechnya, Iraq (1991 to the present), Israel/Palestine, the North of Ireland, and South Africa. She picks the crucial moments in each war when peace-making begins to seem possible, emphasizing the changes which come during the ending weeks of a war which she says are “fraught with danger and uncertainty.”

The author begins the book by writing about the myth and reality of the peace-making process, including the role of anti-war activists, a role she notes which, while vital, is limited. Not even in the case of Vietnam, she says, was the peace movement responsible for ending the war: “Anti-war activists regularly build popular support for, even passion for, peace, but they cannot set either the timing or the terms that make it possible truly to stop the killing.”

In Northern Ireland, for example, she reminds us that the bombers and bullets continued to do their “just” and “necessary” work for more than 20 years after Betty Williams and Mairead Corrigan received their Nobel Peace Prize. She even recalls a strategy being used in one struggle today: “In cities like Belfast, the government built 20-foot high walls to impede the killing; like two peoples besieged, the city’s residents lived in fortresses, each side barricaded inside their own protective and exclusive zone.”

Meyer-Knapp does not deny that ordinary people have an important role to play. Their “tangible power is to remain committed to peace and to be steady in precarious times once the peace process has begun. Just as important, while the fighting continues, popular movements do and must step up to the moral obligation to make visible the dreadful suffering which war brings.”

But her focus in the book is narrower. “This is a book about stopping killing by making an agreement that endures well enough to prevent a rapid return to militarized violence.” And agreements like that, she says, must be made in high places: “The responsibility for peace-making belongs in a very few hands—those of the political leaders who ordered military violence in the first place.”

It was fascinating in reading the book to see how close some of the seven wars came to ending, only to have an event or a person block the chance for peace. Wars are complex and unpredictable, Meyer-Knapp emphasizes. She makes a number of references to Carl von Clausewitz, the renowned military strategist, who introduced the terms “fog” and “friction” in a war; they make it impossible to analyze information accurately or to have the war come out according to plan. Variables include the will of the fighters on both sides; the honor involved and the obligation to continue to fight; patriotism; blindly obeying orders; and the desire for revenge and justice which becomes increasingly heated with each enemy action. All these and more, the author says, can get in the way of ending a war.

Meyer-Knapp discusses another factor in continuing a war under the heading of “Guardianship and Government.” She writes: “Citizens of a community under threat allow their ‘guardians’ remarkable civil powers. Information is controlled…. Governments and voters spend vast amounts of their shared wealth, their tax revenues, on weapons and soldiers. They place at risk their factories, their houses and even their irreplaceable cultural treasures, because inflicting losses on others and withstanding them oneself make it possible to determine the outcome of the war. When the decision to fight is justified as ‘no price is too high,’ the combatant community is obligated to sustain the resilience to fight on.”

So how do wars actually end? The author emphasizes that each war is unique. Who and what starts the war, how the war progresses, when those in power decide the war no longer makes sense—these can all be different in different wars. Nonetheless, the seven wars she analyzes warrant a few generalizations, several of which are surprising.

• These leaders must be willing to negotiate terms and choices even while the fighting continues.

• Those on the weaker side have enormous power in determining whether and when to seek peace.

• The period after the fighting ends is almost as painful and dangerous as wartime.

• Good prospects for peace-making appear at unexpected moments and unexpected events can also abruptly destroy them.

• International attempts to bring war leaders to trial are more likely to impede peace-making than to contribute to positive settlements.

In the book’s discussion of each war, one can see how these principles come into play, or fail to be present as the war continues. Some wars, like the one in Ireland, Meyer-Knapp does not consider fully at an end. Only in South Africa, she observes, is the war completely over. And that war allows her to explore all the steps required, including her four “Re’s”—“re”patriation, “re”pair, “re”parations, and “re”conciliation. “It is in the engagement with these issues that thirst for vengeance, that engine of war that keeps running when all else fades, can finally begin to recede.”

In the chapter on Iraq, titled “False Endings or the War that Never Ended,” Meyer-Knapp makes it clear that this war did not, in fact, end in March, 1991, when generals from both sides signed a cease-fire agreement. The proper conditions for peace were not there.

On Iraq’s side, Saddam Hussein never admitted defeat, an admission Meyer-Knapp believes is crucial to end any war. For its part, the UN Security Council elected to control Iraq’s weapons and force it to pay reparations, all of which Hussein resisted. There were no serious negotiations between the two sides about powers and resources, also essential to end a war. So for the next 12 years, the war continued with UN control of key parts of Kurdistan, air combat over much of Iraq’s land area involving 200,000 missions by U.S. aircraft, many of them bombing runs, UNSCOM’s weapons destruction project, an embargo on Iraqi oil sales, a ban on importation of food and medicine, and a UN Marine Interception Force which intercepted some 30,000 ships. It was, writes Meyer-Knapp, “a modern and massive siege war.”

During the siege, the Iraqis were unable to rebuild the electrical generating plants and water pumping stations which had been designated “military targets,” and had been destroyed by Coalition bombs in the 1991 war. Civilian housing and oil-production facilities went unrepaired. In data accepted by the UN, malnutrition in Iraq had risen by 400 percent, afflicting nearly 20 percent of the population. By 1995, 576,000 children had died as a result of the lack of both food and medicine, according to UN Food and Agriculture program estimates. According to the World Health Organization, 96,000 Iraqis were dying in hospitals each year over and above the number who would have died under peacetime conditions. Two Directors of the UN’s oil-for-food program resigned within months of each other, one of whom said that the UN was causing, not curing, the devastation.

Meyer-Knapp asks: “Could any other strategy have brought this war to an end? Indeed, yes,” she responds, and uses examples from other wars to speculate on how things could have turned out differently. While in no way excusing Saddam Hussein—“He was engaged in war, too, and bears his share of the responsibility”—she emphasizes that “None of the handful of men who had a say in decisions about Iraq was willing to admit that the suffering was too much.”

In the next-to-last chapter, “The Dangerous Dynamics of Peace-Making,” Meyer-Knapp notes that those who seek peace risk their careers and even their lives. “Spoilers” is the name the author uses for those intent on continued war. Yitzhak Rabin murdered by one of his own people. Anwar Sadat killed for making peace with Israel. Alexander Ledbed losing his chance for the Russian presidency within three months after seeking peace in Chechnya. Ireland’s Gerry Adams risking his political ambitions. Nelson Mandela risking being labeled a traitor by his colleagues in the ANC.

In her final chapter, “Justice, Mercy, Memory, and Peace,” Meyer-Knapp refers to the analogy of a bridge that both sides must build. When they meet halfway, she says, their conflict is most likely resolved. But there is another kind of bridge that must also be built, she emphasizes: “No matter how sound the constitution and the currency, neither will flourish in a society still riddled with pain, and pain is a haunting presence even after the violence ends. To leave the war behind them, survivors in the combatant communities must find a way to explain their suffering and to respond to it….Otherwise, the past will reach out and drag them back into war.”

This final step can be taken by the telling of stories, by acts of remembrance, in the search for justice. But the justice cannot be prosecutorial. The author sees little value in an International Criminal Court which is more likely to inhibit leaders from ever ending a war rather than to encourage former enemies to build their “peace-bridge.” Moreover, only a few whose conduct seems particularly outrageous are ever put on trial. Such courts have not worked in the past, she documents, and the chances are high that they can only damage world peace. Unfortunately, she adds, there is a huge momentum today for such a court.

What is the best way to pursue justice? It is complicated, the author says. She asks: “Can there be justice for the fact that someone assassinated a president by shooting down his plane, and thereby drove two million or more people to their deaths or into exile? What about three years of virtually daily shelling of civilians in a besieged city? What about capturing a ‘traitor’ and torturing him to death by encircling his head with a flaming car tire? What about designing a propaganda campaign to enable the conduct of a terror genocide that kills 800,000 people?”

The classic example of doing it right is the Truth and Reconciliation Commission set up in South Africa, a well-reported effort which Meyer-Knapp describes in detail. She discusses such subjects as amnesty, past grievances, forgiveness, cleansing, healing, understanding—and mercy, which she sees as the most important ingredient of all.

“Mercy entails action, and merciful acts are possible even in the absence of forgiveness, before anyone has tendered an apology and well before reconciliation can even be contemplated. Indeed, mercy may well be the only positive ethical stance that enemies still actively engaged in war can adopt toward one another. Without mercy, without the willingness to desist from punitive and destructive acts that remain within their power, there is no way for leaders in a war to bring the fighting to an end.”

Meyer-Knapp’s closing thoughts: Peace must be dared. Peace is inevitable. Every war will end.

Dangerous Peace-Making by Helena Meyer-Knapp. Peace-maker Press, Olympia, WA. 2003. Available through PMB 30, 1910 4th Ave. E, Olympia, WA 98506, and online at Tescbookstore.com and Amazon.com. $16.95

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On the issue of energy (as well as many others), the headlines all seem to be negative—the U.S. more dependent than ever on Middle eastern oil, Congress refusing to raise fuel standards but trying again to drill in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, average temperatures in Alaska rising five degrees through global warming, and many more. (See “Trashing the Environment With A Thousand Cuts,” Timeline, Sept-Oct 2003.)

In this traditional season of renewal, can we find any basis for hope?

Fortunately, some people and institutions do recognize the issue, and are taking actions to deal with it. Here are some examples:

Californians Continue to Save After Energy Crisis

In response to the blackouts and price hikes of 2001, Californians began serious efforts to conserve energy, cutting their consumption by up to nine percent. More surprisingly, however, most of them are continuing to conserve even after the crisis passed. While overall energy consumption has edged up a bit, utility experts believe that a third or more of the reductions will be permanent. Accordingly to Iraj Deilami, who runs the forecasting team at the Sacramento Municipal Utility District, “It is basically a structural change in consumption rather than a transitory change in behavior

Kentucky Harnesses Methane from Landfills

Trash buried in landfills generates methane gas, which irritates neighbors and contributes to global warming. Kentucky, currently heavily dependent on coal, is making one of the largest efforts of any state to utilize those gases to generate electricity, building four plants for $4 million dollars each—another example of converting waste into fuel.

Berkeley Goes for Biodiesel

In June, the City of Berkeley, CA, switched 90 percent of its diesel vehicles to using 100 percent biodiesel (B100). Biodiesel can be made from any fat or vegetable oil and performs similarly to petroleum diesel. Using it not only saves oil but also significantly reduces emissions like carbon monoxide, particulate matter, and unburned hydrocarbons, and on a life-cycle basis reduces emissions of global-warming-causing carbon dioxide by 78 percent—all of which lower the threat of cancer and other ailments. It is also far safer to store, transport, and use, because it is not a hazardous material.

Australia Converts Macadamia Nut Waste to Fuel

In September, Australia opened the first-ever plant to convert discarded shells of macadamia nuts into electrical power. In the first year it is expected to convert 5,000 tons of otherwise wasted shells into enough electricity to power up to 1200 homes. By doing so it will reduce green-house gases by around 9,500 tons, the equivalent of taking 2000 cars off the road.

The U.K. Surpasses Goals for Cutting Emissions

Industries in Great Britain have surpassed goals for cutting greenhouse gas emissions by almost three times national targets and almost twice inter-national obligations. In 2000, the British government signed 10-year climate change agreements (CCAs) with 44 industries, representing over 5000 companies. In 2002, carbon dioxide emissions decreased by 13.5 million metric tons, 10 million tons more than the CCA targets. Environment Minister Michael Meacher said the country would exceed the 12.5 percent emissions reduction target mandated by the Kyoto Protocol by 2020, and was on the way to a reduction of almost twice that amount.

Universities Save Landfill by Collecting and Reselling Student Castoffs

At the end of the school year, students often have to clear out their rooms in two days. Their usual way of dealing with the problem has been to throw everything away, including perfectly usable items. This practice wastes the energy used in producing the products, clogs the landfills, and creates enormous headaches for the universities. Albert Matyasovsky of Penn State got the idea of collecting the castoffs and holding a giant yard sale. Ninety tons of stuff was salvaged and sold at bargain prices, generating a $15,000 profit which the university donated to local charity, gaining good will with the community. Building on that concept, Lisa Heller, who bemoaned the waste she saw as a grad student, founded a nonprofit called “Dump and Run,” which is helping other campuses set up similar programs.

Japan Promotes Solar

The Japanese government is a strong supporter of solar electricity, providing subsidies of $25 million/year to companies working to develop more efficient technology. As a result, Japan has surpassed the U.S. as the largest producer of photovoltaic panels, and generates half of all the solar electricity in the world. It has also paid out nearly $1 billion in rebates to citizens for installing solar arrays on their roofs.

Norway Generates Energy from Tides

People have talked for years about harnessing ocean tides for energy, but Norway is the first to use them to feed electricity into a power grid. It has installed a sub-sea power station that looks like an underwater windmill and is driven by the rise and fall of the tides, generating enough electricity for about 30 homes. Similar experiments are under way around the world, and the hope is that success in the Norwegian project will lead to much wider use of this technology.

Palo Alto, CA, Leads in Energy Conservation and Photovoltaics

The City of Palo Alto, which owns its own utility, has for years offered rebates to customers who purchase energy efficient appliances, energy-saving measures like double-pane windows, and photovoltaic (PV) systems. Since 1999, more than 70 homes have installed PV systems, equivalent in global climate change to reducing carbon dioxide emissions by 6,000 metric tons, or planting 33,000 trees. The City has also committed to increase its renewable energy purchases to 20 percent by 2015, and is already offering customers the option of paying a bit extra to purchase 100 percent renewable energy now.

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Hope Within the Fire
A Report by Mac Lawrence

All wars eventually end, but you have to wonder what it will take to end one so emotionally charged as that between the Israelis and Palestinians. The fear and hatred of both peoples seems to crowd out understanding and compassion, needed ingredients for a lasting peace. Intractable old leaders pursue courses that make things worse. Outside interventions only seem to fuel the fire.

But there exists, even in this conflagration, possibility and hope.

Face to Face

One success that has been growing throughout the U.S., in the Middle East, and in many other parts of the world is the dialogue group where Jews and Arabs, Palestinians and Israelis, meet together to share of themselves. Len and Libby Traubman of San Mateo, who started such a group in 1992 in their living room and who now work closely with five such groups, say the secret is engaging in true dialogue. “It is not discussion or debate, or even conflict resolution,” the Traubmans emphasize. “Instead it is what we call ‘compassionate listening.’”

It was not easy to start that first group, the Traubmans note. “Few Israelis and Palestinians, Jews and Arabs, have the chance to get to know one another, and typically, the thought of even being with one another is abhorrent. So it took some persuading to gather ten Jews and ten Palestinians for our first meeting. It’s easier now, because those who have experienced this kind of dialogue share with others how meaningful the experience has been to them, and how important understanding each other is to any chance of peace. There are now more than a hundred dialogue groups meeting regularly in people’s homes and on college campuses in a dozen countries.

“When people first participate in such a group,” note Len and Libby, “some are quiet, cautious, and protected. Some are assertive, clinging to anger and hurt, unable to hear others or focus on anything but their cause and view. But over time, as they hear each other’s stories, their identification expands and they begin to see each other as human and equal, interrelated and interdependent. Seeing their oneness—and differences, as well—they begin to want the best for each other.”

While realizing that only government leaders can set the actual arrangements for peace, the Traubmans point out that governments alone cannot do all that is required. “Creativity, correcting stereotypes, and discovering trustworthy knowledge—these are not going to come from governments. But if enough citizens have this expanded identification, it will make the environment fertile and right for the government peace process to go to completion. As Henry David Thoreau observed, ‘Things do not change; we change.’”

Peacemakers Camp

Dialogue groups also carry out a wide variety of joint projects. One of the most successful took place in September at a camp near Yosemite National Park. There, 45 adults, 24 youth, and 50 staff members—families, singles, ages 1 to 65— spent a weekend together at what was called the First Palestinian-Jewish Family Peacemakers Camp: Oseh Shalom-Sanea al-Salam. Along with dialoguing far into the night, there were hikes together, boating and ropes courses, evening campfires with a music and talent show, shared art and Middle Eastern meals, and a closing ceremony with personal statements of connection and change.

For many, the camp with its concentrated time together added to the impact of the dialogue groups. One who experienced the camp, a Palestinian psychologist who had attended dialogue groups for eleven years, had what she called a transforming experience. “I have never felt so welcomed by Jews,” she said. “I was so moved that I was unable to speak when I first returned to our regular dialogue group.”


One of the new citizen initiatives that are beginning to appear is OneVoice. They believe that, overwhelmingly, Palestinians and Israelis want to live in peace, and that it is the extremists on both sides who keep the war going. As noted on their website (see below), “The majority of people have been disenfranchised, fallen prey to external fears and hatreds…. The political process is deadlocked and people feel hopeless. We must change that by bypassing it.”

OneVoice’s idea is to go directly to the people with the goal of creating a People’s Mandate which expresses the clear will of the majority of citizens on both sides. Politicians, they say, will then have to decide whether to act according to the will of the people, or face replacement. OneVoice has taken the first step by drafting a Proclamation of Principles for Reconciliation. This Proclamation is being revised in consultation with some 200 experts—Israelis, Palestinians, and others—into a document whose basic human principles all agree on. OneVoice then plans to secure 10,000 signatories for the Proclamation, all of whom will be invited to engage in a fully participatory, back-and-forth consensus process to reach as detailed agreement as possible on each of the ten most salient issues facing the two peoples. These ten Core Agreements, then, become the People’s Mandate.

An extensive analysis of OneVoice’s plans appears on their website, and covers questions skeptics might ask, along with answers to concerns in sections titled “Palestinian, Arab, and Muslim Concerns,” and “Israeli and Jewish Concerns.”

Interestingly, some of those involved in OneVoice are leaders with whom the Foundation for Global Community’s Middle East team has worked closely for many years. One of the documents OneVoice used as a basis for creating their Proclamation of Principles for Reconciliation was the document produced by these same Israeli and Palestinian leaders who worked hard and productively together in a seminar held at the Foundation’s retreat center in California a dozen years ago.

The website for OneVoice is www.silentnolonger.org

Why Dialogue?

Len and Libby Traubman carry on a worldwide communication about the value of dialogue on their website, http://traubman.igc.org, and by e-mail, sending out hundreds of information packets and videos. Among the many questions, requests, and comments the Traubmans receive daily, was the following e-mail (edited slightly for brevity) from Gaia Muallem, a senior at Rice University. Observes Len Traubman, “When anyone asks, ‘Why should I be in dialogue?’ and I had just one document to show them, this would be it.”

Hi Libby and Len,

Thank you so much for your inspirational e-mail. It came just when I needed some focus and motivation. I would love to have a phone conversation with you. I agree that talking would be ideal. Things are a little bit crazy at the moment (as they always are for me during the holidays), but after next week, I should have no problem finding a time that would work for you.

My parents are Israeli. They left Israel before I was born, but we go back to visit about every other year, and they haven’t exactly immersed themselves in American society. I first realized how much of a bubble I had lived in when I came to college, and I think that’s when I really started getting interested in exploring my Israeli side. (I had never had to explore it before—it was right there at home.)

Actually, at first, I probably would have been the last person to participate in this kind of thing. I was pretty anti-Palestinian (and, to tell you the truth, anti-Arab), and I didn’t want to talk about my feelings. I felt like I was always attacked, and it made me sick to my stomach to have to discuss Israel with people who didn’t understand, who didn’t have a personal stake in the issue. As far as speaking with Palestinians was concerned, I was content to live my whole life without doing so.

In my sophomore year of college, one of the organizations here sponsored a “discussion panel.” The intentions were good—the guy planning it really wanted to learn, but some-where along the way and through the rest of the committee, it became a debate without the debating. We weren’t allowed to speak unless called on (we went one by one) so that even though we were allowed to respond to one another, it wasn’t allowed to be direct. Basically, it turned into an evening of a bunch of arguments started and not finished. (It was advertised on a flier with CONFLICT in big letters and then some words about discussion, so we went into it a little wary to begin with.) Surprisingly enough, though, that experience was the first that really started to open my eyes because I actually had to interact with Palestinians. We went out as a group a lot right before the panel discussion because the organizers wanted us to feel comfortable with each other. We actually didn’t talk about our views at all in those pre-panel sessions because we were trying to relax, so we just became friends.

To my surprise, the Palestinian panelists were my favorite people on the panel. And I learned they never attacked me—I learned that people who really care listen and try not to fight. So obviously I had to change a few misconceptions.

As an aside, but related, the revelation that I always bring up to people who are willing to discuss this issue with me is that each side refuses to see the other as individual people. How can you think about respect and acceptance when the word “Palestinian” connotes, in your mind, a community responsible for every hardship in your life?

When Israelis hear about Israelis being killed, the first thing that they do is rush to go online and see who it was; what unit they were in; how old were they; who are their parents? But when a Palestinian is killed, even if the response is not happiness (which it unfortunately is in a lot of cases), for many people it’s: “Oh, just a Palestinian,” and not a person. That, to me, is the biggest obstacle to any kind of resolution.

OK, back to my story. I didn’t change automatically, but subconsciously I started thinking about how Ibrahim’s family would feel whenever I heard about a military incursion or curfew or more restrictions (they live in Ramallah). At first, I pushed those thoughts out of my head because I felt like it would make me a bad Jew and a bad Israeli to understand or care about the plight of my Palestinian friend’s family (which is another issue that I struggle with and try to talk to people about). But once I started thinking along those lines, I couldn’t go back (thankfully).

I studied abroad in Israel the next fall, which was the most wonderful experience of my life and just helped to change me even more. I lived in Beer Sheva, so there were always Bedouins around, and I was really uncomfortable about the fact that there was absolutely no interaction between them and us unless there absolutely had to be. I mean, not even eye contact. I think that just exemplified the sentiment that exists in both camps right now (and these were just Bedouins who don’t even provoke much of a response among Israelis).

And still, when I would walk through the streets and see “Exile to Arabs” spray-painted everywhere, I would wonder how there can be hope with people like this. It was really hard for me to see Muslims of various origins in the university with me who were fluent in Hebrew and to know that they were walking on the same streets and seeing the same signs. I think that was really the first time that I allowed my fiercely defensive view of Israel to crumble just a little. I was actually hurt that Israelis could do something like that—or, more, that Jews could do something like that not even a century after the horrors of the Holocaust that started with signs like those.

When I got back to Rice, I wasn’t sure where I wanted to go with this, but I was experiencing a lot of different things and still reacting to everything that I had experienced in Israel. When Liora first approached me about the dialogue group, I was a little wary because I didn’t really understand the concept of dialogue. And she didn’t either at first, so we had a couple of bumpy first meetings, which is to be expected, but then you guys sent her the meaning of dialogue, and everything changed.

Originally, we had been planning activities for meetings, such as two people in the group would discuss their views and then the rest would join in or comment. And this was really hard for a lot of us because to open ourselves up about such an issue was like baring our souls in a lot of cases, and not everyone appreciated that. But I’ll never forget the day that Liora came and explained to us what dialogue actually means. I just felt something click when she talked about creating a safe environment and expressing emotions and responses so that other people could share them and take them on, not defend or argue with them.

I feel like so much growth can occur if we just have people who are willing to experience things together. I mean, even without that, I feel like I have learned so much, and I want to be able to take it to the next level. I am graduating this year and hope to go to medical school in Israel, and I am really hoping to have a strong foundation in dialogue so that I can get involved there, where things really need to happen.

There’s so much more. Even as I was writing this, I thought of a thousand different experiences that I could share with you, but this is a general idea of my history and my feelings about dialogue. I’m sure we will discover more about each other in conversation. Thank you so much again for your support. It really means so much for me to have it. I am looking forward to speaking with you.


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Wheelchairs Restore Shattered Lives
A Report by Walt Hays

I have never seen such a radiant smile. I had just lifted an elderly woman into a new wheelchair, which allowed her to move about for the first time in years. While I had felt some satisfaction earlier in donating funds that helped provide the chair, the direct experience touched much deeper.

The delivery of that wheelchair was part of a collaboration between Rotary and the Wheelchair Foundation to deliver 280 such chairs to needy people in Guatemala. I learned later that people connected with the Foundation for Global Community (FGC) are involved with a similar project in Afghanistan. And the connection is not surprising, because it turns out that the Wheelchair Foundation has inspired an enormous number of similar initiatives.

People need wheelchairs for many reasons: birth defects, accidents, debilitating diseases, advanced age—and most tragically, injuries from war or its aftermath, in the form of landmines. It is estimated that there are 45-50 million landmines in the ground, spread over at least 70 countries. Every year those mines kill or maim approximately 15,000 people. Survivors face a lifetime of debilitating physical and emotional injuries, economic hardships, and even possible ostracism from their communities.

Although an estimated 100-130 million disabled people worldwide need wheelchairs, less than one percent have access to one. The rest either get around through family and friends, crawl, or lie in bed.

One of the problems in providing wheelchairs has been their expense. In the West, the most basic durable wheelchair costs $375, far beyond what a poor person in a developing country can pay.

Kenneth E. Behring, a successful California automobile dealer and real estate developer, saw the problem and in June of 2000 donated $15 million to establish the Wheelchair Foundation. He then made arrangements for the manufacture of wheelchairs in China for $150 a chair, and inexpensive transportation in containers of 280. Finally, to enlist broader participation, the Wheelchair Foundation offered to match every $75 contribution toward a wheelchair, and to provide the donor with a picture of the recipient. Under that formula, dozens of organizations and thousands of individuals have contributed, with the result that since 2000, over 162,000 otherwise immobile people, in 109 countries, have received life-changing wheelchairs. The initiatives in Afghanistan and Guatemala are typical.

Afghanistan has the greatest problem in the world. The estimate of the number of people needing wheelchairs is 750,000. And the menace continues: The number of landmines and unexploded ordinance in the country is estimated at 5,000,000-7,000,000, and 300 people are hospitalized every month for injuries from these hazards.

FGC’s ARISE Project (Timeline, Sept/Oct 2002) has worked closely with the Afghan Center in Fremont, California, and obtained the funding that helped the Center start humanitarian work in Afghanistan. Once established there, the Center joined with the Wheelchair Foundation to deliver 240 wheelchairs in Kabul. Nasir Durani, an Afghan-American who heads the Afghan Center and co-founded the ARISE Project, traveled to Afghanistan to be present for the delivery of the chairs and wrote a report on his trip. Here are excerpts:

“Kabul was a scene of emotions and jubilation as it witnessed the distribution of wheelchairs to 240 disabled people who had lost both legs as a result of polio, amputation for shrapnel wounds, or being blown up by booby traps or grenade explosions.

“According to the UN and the Ministry of Martyrs and Disabled, there are 24,000 handicapped and disabled individuals registered with these two organizations. Over 1000 of these people, from all walks of life, ethnicity, and gender, attended with their friends and relatives at their side. They came from across the capital, from as far away as Paghman, 25 km west of Kabul, on whatever modes of transportation they could find, including mules and donkeys. Many of their relatives themselves were handicapped and disabled due to indiscriminate bombing of civilian houses.

“Working with district representatives, the Afghan Center identified 240 of the most qualified disabled persons, those who had lost both legs as a result of booby traps or grenade explosions. The crowd was overwhelmed by feelings and emotions when some 25 women and children were carried to the distribution site wrapped in blankets. Once they settled into their wheelchairs, their facial expression and emotions could only be described as giving a person a second chance to live.

“Despite Afghan cultural constraints forbidding girls and women to express their feelings in public, the recipients could not refrain from openly ‘dancing.’ Their eyes brightened, they started moving their hands, and members of the audience, who were dancing themselves, lifted them up and helped in dancing movements. Words cannot possibly capture the true feeling of the scene.”

Later, in reporting at an FGC staff meeting, Nasir stated, “This is a better way to fight terrorism.”

In the case of Guatemala, the experience of delivering wheelchairs was shared by two people connected with both FGC and the Rotary Club of Palo Alto—Bill Busse and myself. Guatemala is another country with a great need for wheelchairs. The majority of the population is very poor, so few people with naturally occurring needs for wheelchairs can afford them. In addition, as in Afghanistan, the 30 years of civil war that followed the military coup in the ’60s left many people crippled, and thousands of landmines poised to cripple others.

In 2002, a representative of the Wheelchair Foundation made a presentation to the Rotary Club, and Busse responded by establishing a committee to raise funds to buy wheelchairs. In addition to soliciting contributions, the committee sponsored a wheelchair basketball game as a fundraiser. Then, through my involvement with various international projects, we learned that the Club Rotario Guatemala del Este in Guatemala had also raised funds for wheelchairs, and the decision was made to combine $11,000 from our club with $10,000 from theirs to purchase a container of 280 chairs. The container was shipped from China directly to Guatemala, and Bill, I, and another Rotary couple flew to Guatemala in September for one day to experience the delivery of some wheelchairs first-hand.

The Guatemalan Rotarians had made arrangements to deliver around 60 chairs to two institutions serving the poor—the Madre de Theresa home in Guatemala City, and a hospital in Antigua. A half dozen local Rotarians joined the four of us from Palo Alto in unpacking and assembling the chairs, after which the locals took a picture of each recipient in their wheelchair to send to the donor of that chair. Since the delivery took place within the walls of the institutions, we did not have cheering, dancing crowds as in Afghanistan. However, I will never forget the joy on the faces of the recipients, who had been immobile for years, as they realized that they could now move about again.

These two examples illustrate the enormous impact being made by the Wheelchair Foundation, in both delivering chairs and attracting donors and volunteers. They also serve as stark reminders that our greater challenge is to eliminate the wars and landmines that cause most of the crippling injuries in the first place.

For more information, go to www.wheelchairfoundation.org.

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Hymn of Praise

Every being has two dimensions: its universal dimension and its individual dimension—the Great Self and the small self.

The Universe is our Great Self—that’s why we are so inspired by being among trees, hearing sacred songs, seeing the colors of flowers, watching the flow of rivers. The source of inspiration is an encounter with the Great Self, the dimension where we experience fulfillment. We are not wholly ourselves without it.

I think the Iroquois Thanksgiving ceremony is one of the greatest of all religious festivals: The Iroquois remember and thank fifteen or more specialized powers, including the water, the rain, the wind, the earth, the trees. Within our own traditions, there is also this capacity for understanding that the small self cannot survive without the Great Self. Our job, as humans, is to be a part of the great hymn of praise that is existence.

This is cosmological thinking. To participate in the sacred mystery in these moments is to know what it means to be human.

Thomas Berry

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