The Fine Line Between Self Defense & War Crimes

Throughout the last several years most of my studies have focused on issues going on around Sub-Saharan Africa. However, becoming more involved with Amnesty International in the city and meeting people from around the world I became anxious to learn about more and more cultures around the world. The Israel-Palestine conflict has never been one that I personally have been as informed on as I would like, and it still is not. However, I do know the difference between right and wrong and after spending the last week researching it as much as I could I have very mixed feelings.

I know the history is extremely complex. However, within recent months the casualties of Palestinians have been extremely high and the Israeli government seems relentless. After seeing media report after report come out with higher numbers of children and civilian casualties I cannot grasp how people through social media and even President Obama are so heavily backing the government of Israel. Both sides, meaning the Israeli government and Hamas should be held accountable. I understand that Israel is an ally to the U.S., but I also know that Benjamin Netanyahu is known for committing war crimes and standing behind atrocities in the Gaza Strip where people are basically refugees in their own land with no freedoms or human rights granted to them at all. I don’t understand how people in the world or the U.S. can look at them getting murdered with more plans coming out to increase the violence and not want to help them. I agree, the extremist groups like Hamas are also killing Israelis, and those should be condemned as well. People seem to not understand that there are families, children, husbands and wives that are not in these militia type groups that can not have the world turn their back on them so that Israel can murder them in self defense to Hamas. I read today that 44% of Gaza is under the age of 15. That’s nearly half, and explains why the child causality rate is so high. How is this right and how can people not care?

I also understand that because of the complexities that Israel may be on the defensive in feeling that if they back down that the violence will switch. So where does it end? Will it always be whoever is the weaker will be the victim of the defensive attacks of the other and so forth? It’s been going on for years–what is the solution? All I know is I do not agree with the U.S. standing so firmly behind Israel. Allies or not, they are murdering people and planning a ground attack that will increase these numbers even further. I feel concerned for what will happen in the coming days for these people. It amazes me, as usual, that this much suffering and fear is going on for other humans and so many people can easily go about their daily lives and the news reports spend a total of 3 minutes reporting anything. I feel strong emotions knowing that at this moment that is going on. I’m continuing to learn more so if you have any resources or things you think would be good to know I am open for discussion.

As I was typing this, I saw protestors on the news that are currently in Time Square. They were orthodox Jews that were protesting in support to end the suffering for the people of Gaza. Gave me a little bit of hope to see interfaith work in action for good to go to sleep with. Reminded me of Jewish Voice for Peace, an organization I’ve been following very closely lately and I strongly recommend. It’s been a rough weekend. Between this conflict and the M23 rebels approaching Goma in DRC makes me feel very fired up again to do something to help and try to find a way to change. A friend of mine posted this today, and it fit in pretty well.

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“There’s A Special Place in Hell for Women Who Don’t Help Each Other”-Madeleine K. Albright

The Girls Who Rock Team attends the Women In The World summit

The Girls Who Rock Team attends the Women In The World summit

Just a fair warning that this blog is probably going to be longer than a blog post is really supposed to be. However, after attending the 3 day Women In The World Summit, I can’t help but want to remember every moment and all of the inspired ideas and thoughts that I had throughout. This is going to be my documentation of it, but I promise everyt person and everything that happened at the summit is worth reading and learning about. Forgive me if my thoughts seem scattered, I’m trying to collect them through many many tweets. The whole reason I was there was because the Girls Who Rock team was invited, and throughout the whole event I was live tweeting for them (@girlswhorockny). It was an amazing experience! (When I wrote this I didn’t realize just how long it would be, so I have decided to break the summit down by day, this is day 1).

Friday, March 8th

The summit started out with Suma, an indentured servant from Nepal  who was forced into work by her parents where she was treated as a slave and abused daily. She was a beautiful and strong young woman who came to sing her song to help those still suffering this treatment which is common among girls in Nepal after being sent by their own parents.

From there, the evening went into a panel on forced marriages, specifically in Europe. There is an organization there currently called the Forced Marriage Unit that girls can call if they suspect their parents will be taking them away to be married soon. The Forced Marriage Unit then tells the girls to put a metal spoon in their underwear so that when they go through airport security as their parents take them out of the country, they’ll set the alarm off. From there they will be taken into a private room and be given a chance to talk to someone one on one.  However, as Lesley Stahl continued on with the panel, the horror does not end there. Most girls who do speak out against their forced marriage are then turned against by their parents. One woman on the panel, Jasvender Sanghera, hadn’t had contact with their families for decades. It is not uncommon for the cases to be even more extreme than that. Fathers will threaten suicide or divorce of the mother, abuse, or even murder. One woman on the panel had a sister who was constantly abused and raped by her husband she was forced to marry. At age 24 she went to her mother for help, but she refused saying if the woman did anything to ruin the marriage she would be a disgrace to the family. Shortly after, the young woman killed herself by setting herself on fire. The mother refused to let anyone in their family attend the funeral or speak of the young woman or her death again because she had dishonored the family. Stories like this have even come out of the United States. There was a case in Arizona where a mother burned her daughter’s face for refusing an arranged marriage. The awful connection these stories all have, no matter what country they come out of, are that the mothers and grandmothers are often the most brutal and show no remorse on the violence they afflict onto their daughters even if they end up in court for murder. How can a mother feel that way toward their own daughter? There have been 3000 cases of forced marriage in the United States in the past 2 years, but many many more that remain hidden.

Next up was a woman who I have admired for many many years. Madeleine K. Albright was interviewed by Charlie Rose. It was amazing to hear her life story and how she brought it with her into her career firsthand, and inspiring as she made it seem that any person no matter what background you have can have enormous success. She recalled her family who had passed away in concentration camps, which she only found out recently, and her personal experience in the Cold War as a child. “You have to remember those who perished to make a better life,” she said.  She then related the Holocaust in Germany to the current situation in Syria today commenting on how people back in World War II claimed that they didn’t know what was happening in Germany, though she doesn’t buy that, but today we know everything that goes on everywhere and we have a responsibility to protect (R2P). Then the question I think is on many minds today was voiced-how many people have to die in Syria before we can intervene? It’s a thin line right now to a huge regret remembered for all of history such as what happened with Rwanda.  Switching gears, Madeleine Albright began speaking about women in power and how there aren’t enough currently because if there was it would make a huge difference. “Some say there arent enough qualified women, thats the biggest load of bullshit I’ve ever heard,” she said. Then she gave a quote that would highlight throughout the rest of the summit: “There’s a special place in Hell for women who don’t help each other.”

Friday March 8, 2012 at Women in the World Summit

Sandra Uwiringyimana, an 18 year old Congolese woman, told her experience of surviving the genocide in 2004 at age 10. From my past experience working on projects for positive change in Democratic Republic of Congo, it was heartbreaking to hear her story as she spoke of her family fleeing Congo to Burundi and witnessing the massacre that occurred along the way. “Justice needs to be fought for and it can come from anyone, even a teenager like myself,” she said. She now follows her passion of photography and uses it to tell the story of the children she was with during the massacre and what their lives are like now. Hearing her choke up recalling the people she knew and her family, I couldn’t stop the tears streaming down my own face. She was so strong and beautiful, and so young to have seen so much.

To end the evening, Angelina Jolie told the story of a Somali woman. Dr. Hawa Abdi has stood as a strong woman throughout tragedy in Somalia. She has a camp that provides medical help and shelter to refugees and those who were suffering from the famine. However, once international NGOs started setting up camps as well they started paying locals more to work for them, and she began losing her employees. Finally, she had to give them a raise to stay, which took away most of her funds she had for the 2012 year, another example of the western world doing way more harm than good through poorly thought out aid plans. As the drought ended, a great rain occurred which then left most of the people sick with pneumonia. As if any of this weren’t bad enough, women often were raped by rebels if the wandered away from the camp at all. One day the rebels came and took all of the children from the camp. Once they were brought back the children said they were actually taken to a celebration, where they also met members of Al Queda. Now the rebels are wanting to take away areas of the camp to use for their own. Dr. Abdi took them to court, but since even law enforcement are terrified of the rebels, she lost. Now 400 people are being forced out of their shelter at the camp. They were given 5 days to leave with nowhere to go, and that 5th day was Friday March 9th. The only good news coming from this situation is that Dr. Hawa Abdi has been nominated for the Nobel Peace Price. I can not think of anyone who could possibly deserve it more.

Women in DRC Remind The World of A Local Voice’s Power

I was inspired by this Peace X Peace post that I read the other day. It reminded me of an important concept that many people forget. As organizations and people both in the United States and around the world strive to help communities, there needs to be a local voice. There should always be representation from the area that is trying to be helped. In this case, Democratic Republic of Congo. People assume, especially with the help of the media, that developing nations, or just places that are different that what they’re used to, are completely helpless. Worse than that, it is sometimes thought that the U.S. shouldn’t help people at all because they “obviously aren’t doing anything to help themselves”. This article titled Congolese Women: We’re Not Just Victims proves these arguments wrong.

Image from Peace X Peace article "Congolese Women-We're Not Just Victims"

Today, there are so many nonprofits and NGOs they are almost doing more harm than good. The system is flawed and unorganized, even when people mean well. That’s why there should always me a link within the community being assisted by these organizations to help guide the process and work together. Otherwise the voices of those in need can easily be lost, and they of course are the ones living it. I always felt it would be smart to have a central player in this system to keep nonprofits on the right track. A system that made an up and coming movement pass through the local community’s approval before becoming a registered organization. Maybe a policy that should be implemented so we can focus on solving problems rather than creating more. It’s something to think about.

We Ran for Congo Women

Jon and I after the 5K.

When I saw the Run for Congo Women tweeted by Women for Women International I couldn’t wait to be a part of it.  From participating in many DRC initiatives the last several years throughout college, I was anxious to stay active upon moving to NYC.  Some of my closest friends at OU came from shared passion for working to create change in the region and stop human rights atrocities.  The people I met who were from DRC had truly inspiring stories that helped motivate me to stay involved and not give up until a difference is finally made.

On a beautiful day we ran the 5K at Roosevelt Island (though I’m not much of a runner so walking was involved, but it’s the thought that counts!)  After the run I had the opportunity to speak with the organizers of the event.  One of them, Amy, saw my energy and invited me to help with future events.  We also spoke about finding a way to incorporate spreading awareness of Conflict Minerals and continuing the initiative further.  Ideas for this are of course welcome, as I continue brainstorming myself.  I also met the founder of Shona, an organization that sells products made by women in DRC with disabilities. Truly beautiful work, I bought a great bag myself and plan to purchase more in the future.  The woman told me about her years living in Rwanda and DRC, which was great for me since I can’t wait to travel there.

A gorgeous bag like the one I bought from Shona.

I felt the run feeling good to be back involved with helping Congo and excited about my new connections.  I have already had the opportunity to meet and speak to them further.  I highly encourage you to check out and attend future Run for Congo events!