Hold It All


Category: Compositions

A Feat of Reading and Writing


[T]he sheer enormity of what took place between 1933 and 1945 beggars our powers of description and understanding. The more one studies this period and its excesses, the more one must conclude that for any decent human being the slaughter of so many millions of innocents must, and indeed should, weigh heavily on subsequent generations, Jewish and non-Jewish…. there is no reason at all, in my opinion, not to submit oneself in horror and awe to the special tragedy besetting the Jewish people. As an Arab in particular I find it important to comprehend this collective experience in as much of its terrible concrete detail as one is capable: this act of comprehension guarantees one’s humanity and resolve that such a catastrophe should never be forgotten and never recur.
—Edward W. Said, Al-Ahram Weekly, 1997


Charles Reznikoff immersed himself in more than 20 volumes of transcripts from World War II war crimes trials and the Eichmann trial. Out of that intense reading of thousands of pages came Holocaust, a book of poetry in 12 sections comprising 88 pages published in 1975. Read the rest of this entry »


The Good News of Resistance, 4.22.2017


A while back, I was sitting outside at RISE with a young Irish-Jewish American friend who asked me, when I showed her a particular chapter in Dear Layla Welcome to Palestine, “Who is Abbie Hoffman?”  It was a pleasure to send her such excerpts from his autobiography:

“Later, when I, as well as others, marched on Washington or Chicago, we carried with us the lessons that the local power structures had fought us tooth and nail—that racism was ingrained in the system. We also realized that the lessons came in spite of our formal education. (My critique of democracy begins and ends with this point. Kids must be educated to disrespect authority or else democracy is a farce.)”

“There are lots of secret rules by which power maintains itself. Only when you challenge it, force the crisis, do you discover the true nature of society. And only at the time it chooses to teach you. Occasionally you can use your intellect to guess at the plan, but in general the secrets of power are taught in darkened police cells, back alleys, and on the street. I learned them there.”

“By 1970, my ‘plan’ to stop the war was to disrupt life on the home front. I did not see going to jail as the best use of my time.”


Clara  Bingham has done a riveting oral history of many of Abbie Hoffman’s peers  from the Sixties, focusing in particular on the year 1969-1970 in Witness to the Revolution: Radicals, Resisters, Vets, Hippies, and the Year  America Lost Its Mind and Found Its Soul.  Here’s her thesis: “Whether rebelling against the draft, the atrocities of the war, police and FBI repression, the conformity of the 1950s, the sexist, racist establishment, or all of the above, the movement in the final years of the sixties threatened the entire power structure of American society and transformed the country.”  Bingham’s book will remind baby boomers and instruct their grandchildren as to how people’s experiences then may still speak to the wars being waged in our name today. Read the rest of this entry »

Two Views on Civilization


The civilized have created the wretched, quite coldly and deliberately, and do not intend to change the status quo; are responsible for their slaughter and enslavement; rain down bombs on defenseless children whenever and wherever they decide that their “vital interests” are menaced, and think nothing of torturing a man to death: these people are not to be taken seriously when they speak of the “sanctity” of human life, or the “conscience” of the civilized world.

— James Baldwin, 1976


We will use every necessary weapon of war. Americans should not expect one battle, but a lengthy campaign unlike any other we have ever seen.

Every nation in every region now has a decision to make. Either you are with us or you are with the terrorists. I’ve put the armed forces on alert and there is a reason: The hour is coming when America will act and you will make us proud.

This is the world’s fight, this is civilization’s fight. The great achievements of our time and great hopes of all time, now depend on us.

The course of this conflict is not known, yet its outcome is certain… and we know that God is not neutral.

—George W. Bush, 9.20.2001

Dear Srimatiji

You often said to me
When we were face to face in Chicago
“No worry”

So I write to you far away
With beaming confidence
“No hurry”


What is hateful to thee, do not do unto thy fellow

Rabbi Hillel

It is indeed human nature to hate the man whom you have injured.


Seeing is Believing


Two years later, when I went to the United States to explain the suffering of the Vietnamese people and to plead for peace in Vietnam, I saw a woman on television carrying a wounded baby covered with blood, and suddenly, I understood how the American people could continue to support the fighting and bombing. The scene of the television was quite different from the reality of having a bleeding baby in my arms. My despair was intense, but the scene on the television looked like a performance. I realized that there was no connection between experiencing the actual event and watching it on the TV screen while sitting at home in peace and safety.  People could watch such horrible scenes on TV and still go about their daily business — eating, dancing, playing with children, having conversations.  After an encounter with such suffering, desperation filled my every cell.  These people were human beings like me; why did they have to suffer so?  Questions like these burned inside me, and, at the same time, inspired me to continue my work with serene determination.  Realizing how fortunate I was compared to those living under the bombs helped dissolve any anger or suffering in me, and I was committed to keep doing my best to help them without fear.

Cao Ngoc Phuong, Vietnamese Buddhist and activist


I have been in Palestine for two weeks and one hour now, and I still have very few words to describe what I see. It is most difficult for me to think about what’s going on here when I sit down to write back to the United States. Something about the virtual portal into luxury….I think about the fact that no amount of reading, attendance at conferences, documentary viewing, and word of mouth could have prepared me for the reality of the situation here. You just can’t imagine it unless you see it—and even then you are always well aware that your experience of it is not at all the reality: what with the difficulties the Israeli Army would face if they shot an unarmed U.S. citizen, and with the fact that I have money to buy water when the army destroys wells, and the fact, of course, that I have the option of leaving. Nobody in my family has been shot, driving in their car, by a rocket launcher from a tower at the end of a major street in my hometown.

Rachel Corrie, American activist

Two Vietnamese: Hồ and Thầy–Revolutionary Morality & Buddhist Morality

Hồ Chí Minh

Step by step, during the course of the struggle, by studying Marxism-Leninism while engaging in practical activities, I gradually understood that only socialism and communism can liberate the oppressed nations and the working people throughout the world from slavery.

Revolutionary morality consists of the following: To devote one’s life to struggling for the Party and the revolution. This is the most essential point. To work hard for the Party, observe Party discipline, and implement party lines and policies. To put the interests of the party and the laboring people before and above one’s own interests. To serve the people wholeheartedly. To struggle selflessly for the Party and the people and to be exemplary in every respect.  To endeavor to study Marxism-Leninism and constantly use self-criticism and criticism to heighten one’s ideological standard, improve one’s work, and progress together with one’s comrades.

Revolutionary morality consists, in whatever circumstances, in resolutely struggling against all enemies, maintaining one’s vigilance, standing ready to fight, and refusing to submit, to bow one’s head.

Revolutionary morality does not fall from the sky. It is developed and consolidated through persevering daily struggle and effort. Like jade, the more it is polished the more it shines. Like gold, it grows ever purer as it goes into the melting pot.

–from Hồ Chí Minh, Down with Colonialism!

Thích Nhất Hạnh

Do not be idolatrous about or bound to any doctrine, theory, or ideology, even Buddhist ones. Buddhist systems of thought are guiding means; they are not absolute truth.

Do not think that the knowledge that you presently possess is changeless, absolute truth.  Avoid being narrow-minded and bound to present views.  Learn and practice nonattachment from views in order to be open to receive others’ viewpoints.  Truth is found in life and not merely in conceptual knowledge.  Be ready to learn throughout your entire life and to observe reality in yourself and in the world at all times.

Do not force others, including children, by any means whatsoever to adopt your views, whether by authority, threat, money, propaganda, or even education.  However, through compassionate dialogue, help others renounce fanaticism and narrowness.

Do not avoid contact with suffering or close your eyes before suffering.  Do not lose awareness of the existence of suffering in the life of the world.  Find ways to be with those who are suffering by all means, including personal contact and visits, images, sound.  By such means, awaken yourself and others to the reality of suffering in the world.

— from Thích Nhất Hạnh,  Interbeing: Commentaries on the Tiep Hien Precepts

Facing the Facts

My life is mapped out:
it is my destiny to take a bullet
by the Mafia some day.
The only thing I don’t know is when.

—Giovanni Falcone


See how the accusations against the prophets of all times are the same.
When the prophet bothers the consciences of the selfish,
or of those who are not building with God’s plans,
he is a nuisance and must be eliminated,
murdered, thrown into a pit,
persecuted, not allowed to speak the word that annoys…

–Oscar Romero

Crucifixion & Resurrection


All that could happen to one who joined:
Imprisoned, hooded, beaten, castrated, eyes pulled out,
Buried alive, burned alive.


When I saw the disinterred bones of the two of you
I remembered you Donald in the Solentiname Mass saying
That the Resurrection was not skeletons coming out of the tombs
But survival in the consciousness of others.

–Ernesto Cardenal, To Donald and Elvis

Remembering and Forgetting


The struggle of man against power is the struggle of memory against forgetting.

–Milan Kundera, Czech/French novelist


The Jews of my city are now forgotten, erased from its memory. Before, there were some thirty synagogues in Sighet; today, only one survives. The Jewish tailors, the Jewish cobblers, the Jewish watchmakers have vanished without a trace, and strangers have taken their place.

–Elie Wiesel, Holocaust survivor, advocate of remembrance


Jewish villages were built in the place of Arab villages. You don’t even know the names of these Arab villages, and I don’t blame you, because these geography books no longer exist. Not only do the books not exist, the Arab villages are not there either. Nahalal arose in the place of Mahlu, Gvat in the place of Jibta, Saird in the place of Haneifa, and Kfar-Yehoshua in the place of Tel-Shaman. There is not one single place built in this country that did not have a former Arab population.

–Moshe Dayan, Israeli military leader, politician


The dispossession of Palestinian lands did not only entail the expulsion of their legal owners and the prevention of their repatriation and regaining ownership. It was compounded by the reinvention of Palestinian villages as purely Jewish or ‘Ancient’ Hebrew places.

–Ilan Pappe, Israeli historian, advocate of remembrance