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Saturday, February 22, 2014

Indefinite Detention Enacted by Boston Children's Hospital; Teen Kidnapped by State after Parents Sought Second Medical Opinion

Police State USA
NOTE: Story has been updated. View updates chronologically at bottom of text.  

Justina's is only allowed 2 family members per visit, once per week, for one hour. Source: (freedombytes.info)
Justina’s is only allowed 2 family members per visit, once per week, for one hour.
Source: (freedombytes.info)

BOSTON, MA — A judge has ruled that a Boston teen may continue to be held captive in a hospital and forcibly drugged… indefinitely.  The tragic series of events began when a doctor discarded an earlier medical diagnosis and declared another, prompting objections from her parents and threats to discharge her from Boston Children’s Hospital to take her to get a second opinion.  An epic battle of egos ensued, and the hospital decided that the parents’ insolence in challenging the doctor was tantamount to child abuse. 

Without a trial or having broken a specific law, the girl was stripped from her parents’ custody and the state of Massachusetts has kept her indefinitely detained in a hospital since February 2013.  Based on the latest ruling, the girl may very well be locked in a psychiatric ward until she turns 18 years old.


This past December 14th marked exactly ten months since 15-year-old Justina Pelletier was taken from her parents and placed in the custody of Boston Children’s Hospital (BCH). Local news station, FOX CT, alleges that internal documents that they have obtained show that doctors called in child protection specialists (DCF) at the first sign of disagreement between the Pelletier family and their medical experts. Boston Children’s denied that this is the case in an email to FOX CT (Connecticut):
“The Hospital is not the custodian or the legal guardian of the patients in its care, nor is it affiliated with any state agency. Our staff are caring and supportive professionals who aim to provide the best and most appropriate care for each and every child, regardless of diagnosis.”
Justina was diagnosed three years ago by respected medical experts from Tufts Medical Center with mitochondrial disease, which causes muscle pain, weakness and loss of coordination. Despite her condition, she led the active life of a normal 15-year-old and enjoyed ice-skating, hiking and spending time with her family.
Justina Pelletier enjoyed ice-skating before being confined to Boston Children's Hospital. (Source: Daily Mail)
Justina enjoyed ice-skating before being
confined to Boston Children's Hospital
That was before February, when Justina came down with the flu and was admitted to Boston Children’s Hospital to see her gastroenterologist, who had recently transferred from Tufts.  A mere three days later, other doctors — primarily neurologist, Dr. Jurriaan Peters — dismissed her previous diagnosis of mitochondrial disease, and instead diagnosed her with somatoform disorder. This, in essence, changed her diagnosis from a physical condition to a stress-related mental illness – a psychiatric disorder that causes sufferers to feel pain, although there is no physical cause. Doctors and hospital psychiatrists wield such power that merely suggesting that a patient’s problems are more psychiatric than physical paves the way for the hospital to call in the state child-protection agency.

Once medical child abuse has been alleged, the state agency is legally obligated to investigate all complaints. Unfortunately, as the Boston Globe points out:
“Many parents and their advocates complain, however, that the state agency, because of its lack of in-house medical expertise and its longstanding ties with Children’s, is overly deferential to the renowned Harvard teaching hospital.”
When Justina’s parents, Lou and Linda Pelletier, challenged the diagnosis by insisting on a second opinion, they were told that they could not take her from the hospital.  A swarm of hospital security guards gathered to remove them. Lou Pelletier actually called 9-1-1 when he sensed things were going abysmally wrong. “I told them ‘my daughter is about to be kidnapped by Boston Children’s Hospital,’” he said to the Blaze. Four days later, a judge awarded custody of Justina to the Massachusetts Department of Children and Families (DCF).

Justina Pelletier's sisters: From left to right, Julia, Jennifer, and Jessica. (Source: listwns.com)
Justina Pelletier's sisters (from left to right): Julia,
Jennifer, and Jessica
“They came in, and they said we cannot take Justina out of the hospital. They called DCF,” says Linda Pelletier, Justina’s mother. “It is kidnapping,” says Lou Pelletier, “We don’t even know what they are doing to her. No one will tell us about her treatment. They have kidnapped her, taken her off medications that worked and left her to suffer in pain.” Ironically, the Pelletiers say Boston Children’s accused them “overmedicalizing” their daughter before taking her from them and restricting their access to her. Yet, behind the scenes, the hospital called DCF immediately after Justina’s parents challenged the somatoform diagnosis, alleging that they had abused or neglected her. “They were actually being accused of being too active in pursuing health care matters for their child,” West Hartford psychologist Dean Hokanson, who has worked with Justina for five years, told WTIC.

Justina Pelletier's family is only allowed two twenty-minute phone calls with her per week. Source: (boston.com)
Justina Pelletier's family is only allowed two twenty-minute phone calls
with her per week.
According to FOX CT, a report written in April by a Boston Children’s Hospital physician shows that Justina was taken off of her previously prescribed medication when she entered the hospital:
“Due to concerns regarding Justina’s regressive behavior changes around her family, the multiple medical procedures and care episodes she has been through … and both parents’ resistance towards recommended treatment plans for Justina … a child protection team was convened.”
The Pelletier’s insist, and medical paperwork from Tufts Medical Center confirms, that every surgical procedure and medication that Justina received was approved by doctors. “All we want is Justina back. We don’t even know what we are supposed to have done wrong. They say we overmedicated her and forced her to have unnecessary procedures. But all we ever did was follow her original doctors’ orders.”

Justina’s original doctors have now been “cut out of the loop” in exchange for a new team that specializes in Somatoform Disorder.  They moved quickly to dispute Dr. Korson’s working diagnosis of mitochondrial disease for Justina and accused her parents of medical child abuse.  Dr. Korson’s requests to be included in the discussions regarding his patient would be subsequently ignored by both Boston Children’s and the state (DCF). Justina’s former doctor, Tufts Medical Center specialist Dr. Mark Korson sent an email to the Pelletier’s attorney regarding Boston Children’s Hospital, their team of doctors and the somatoform diagnosis:
Dr. Mark Korson was Justina's primary doctor before being excluded by BCH. Source: (bostonglobe.com)
Dr. Mark Korson was Justina's primary doctor
before being excluded by BHC
“I am dismayed. … It feels like Justina’s treatment team is out to prove the diagnosis at all costs. … The (Boston Children’s Hospital) team has demanded that Justina be removed from the home. … This represents the most severe and intrusive intervention a patient can undergo … for a clinical hunch,” Dr. Korson wrote.
In April of 2013, Justina was moved from her previous room in the hospital to an area of the hospital called Bader 5, the psychiatric ward. Though she vehemently opposed the transfer, Boston Children’s informed Justina that the Commonwealth of Massachusetts — not her or her parents — would be making all choices regarding her future. Sadly, if the judge hearing her case does not put her custody back in the hands of her parents soon, then Justina may be forced to remain at the hospital until she turns 18 and can legally determine her own destiny. By July, the Pelletiers were informed that the hospital was ready to release Justina, still 14-years-old at the time, from the hospital, though not to them. The new team of doctors “demanded that Justina be removed from the home and severe restrictions imposed on contact with her parents.

As the Pelletiers battle for custody of Justina, the Massachusetts Department of Children and Families only allows her parents to visit for one hour and make two twenty minute phone calls per week, and even those are monitored by hospital staff. Her older sister, Jennifer, claims that Justina says, “’psychiatric staff have told her she is never coming home.’ They have apparently told her not to plan any homecoming parties because she isn’t going home. I don’t know exactly when or how many times she has been told this but Justina believes she is going to die in there.”

BCH issued the Pelletiers "guidlines" for their daughter's care which include "No Second Opinions." Source: (dailymail.co.uk
BCH issued the Pelleteirs "guidelines"
for their daughter's care which include
"No Second Opinions"
In the ten months since she was admitted to Boston Children’s Hospital, Justina’s condition has deteriorated to the point where her family says she no longer walks on her own and is now bound to a wheelchair. Her sister, Jennifer, says, “I don’t know what they are trying to do to her but they have destroyed her hope and trust. All we have ever wanted for Justina is for her to get better but she is getting worse.” If she didn’t exhibit the symptoms of Somatoform before she was admitted, her family says that she now does; “She is certainly listless and depressed now – it is like they have created those symptoms to suit their own ends.” Her father added, “I truly believe she is being used as a guinea pig for medical experiments.”


If this all seems a bit Kafkaesque, know that this is not the first time that Boston Children’s Hospital has used its child protection team to threaten parents with state investigations in order to get their way. The Boston Globe report on Justina Pelletier’s case claims at least five instances of “unusually contentious cases over the last 18 months involving Children’s Hospital and the Department of Children and Families.”

Justina Pelletier with her mother during one of her weekly visits allowed by the hospital.
Justina Pelletier with her mother during one of her
weekly visits allowed by the hospital
The DCF should be there to mediate between the two parties, but their lack of medical knowledge puts them at the mercy of the hospitals’ vastly larger experience pool. This would seemingly create a conflict of interest for the DCF when considering the allegations of medical abuse made by doctors and psychologists against parents and legal guardians. What must have begun as a well-intentioned plan to identify cases of medical child abuse and intervene on behalf of the patient has predictably expanded into a bureaucracy of “child protection specialists” who sling charges at parents simply because they disagreed with the hospital’s diagnosis and wanted to take their child elsewhere for treatment.

Parents, like the Pelletiers, are at the mercy of doctors who, according to Dr. Eli Newberger, “have enormous and really unchecked power.” Parents accused of medical child abuse risk losing custody of their children with little to no recourse against the byzantine state agency, all because an overzealous hospital staffer with an inflated job title just didn’t like them.

Justina passes handwritten notes to her family via origami art. Source: (dailymail.co.uk)
Justina passes handwritten notes to her family via origami art
This case has pitted hospital against hospital, doctor against doctor, and parents against the state, with the life of a child hanging in the balance. There will not be any winners now, nor in the future, until the primacy of individual rights is restored to every citizen of every age in this country. Milton Friedman quoting John Stuart Mill perfectly embodies the plight of Justina Pelletier:
“The proper role of government is exactly what John Stuart Mill said in the middle of the 19th century in On Liberty. The proper role of government is to prevent other people from harming an individual. Government, he said, never has any right to interfere with an individual for that individual’s own good.”
She wants to go home; she deserves to go home.


UPDATE  (12/20/2013):  Court Rules Indefinite Detention May Continue

The Pelletiers react to a judge's decision to keep Justina locked away indefinitely in a psych ward.  (Source: The Boston Globe)
The Pelletiers react to a judge's decision to keep Justina locked away indefinitely in a psych ward
This Friday, December 20, Judge Joseph Johnston delivered a shocking blow to the Pelletiers, declaring that the state had met its burden for maintaining custody of Justina, and she will remain in their “protective” care indefinitely until the government rules otherwise.  Justina will not be home for Christmas, as her parents had desperately hoped.  She may not be coming home for a long time. Emotions were high, and the judge’s decision prompted angry outbursts of “Evil!” in the courtroom, according to the Boston Globe.

“I don’t understand how they can do this. I didn’t do anything wrong,” said Linda Pelletier as she left the courtroom, sobbing.

Her red-faced father, Lou, said, “It’s a ******* corrupt state” as he left.

The judge appointed a new guardian ad litem for Justina, and another hearing is scheduled for January 10th, 2014.


UPDATE (2/17/2014): Desperate Parents Break Gag Order, Allege Torture

Justina Pelletier (Source: Facebook)February 14th marked a full year that Justina has been held hostage by Boston Children’s Hospital.  Her parents — emotionally and financially drained — are growing increasingly disillusioned and vocal about the situation.  There seems to be few legal and peaceful options left for them to reunite their family.

In desperation, Justina’s father has broken the court’s gag order on him talking about the oppression of his family.  Lou Pelletier disclosed to the Blaze how his daughter is being punished by her captors if she passes too much information to her parents.

For a while Justina would write secret messages inside of the cards that she sent to her parents.  She would write on the underside of the flap of a card in small lettering so the captors wouldn’t detect it.  Mr. Pelletier said she would be “tortured” in ways that the doctors called “behavioral modification.”

“That’s what Kim Jong Il’s doing in North Korea, behavior modification. … No, no, no, no. It’s torture,” he said.

Lou revealed that the day his daughter was seized, he called 9-1-1 as hospital security guards gathered before taking his daughter.  To his dismay, the police he called for help condoned the kidnapping.

“I told them ‘my daughter is about to be kidnapped by Boston Children’s Hospital,’” he said.
Mr. Pelletier says that even if Justina is released, she will not be the same. He and his wife worry that her listless, diminished condition could be “irreversible.”

“She needs physical therapy. She needs to be back on the vitamin cocktail. She needs to be treated for the goddamn diagnosis she had from the beginning,” Lou said. “I need to save my daughter. If we don’t do something, she is going to die.”

The family says their visitation has been reduced to one 20-minute phone call and one hour-long visit per week.

“Now we go back the 24th, a week from today, and I want to have all my guns blazing. We’re not going to make it much more,” Lou Pelletier said to the Blaze.


  UPDATE (2/18/2014): Lou Pelletier Charged with Contempt of Court

Lou Pelletier’s calculated risk of going public has had the benefit of reaching the audience of Glenn Beck, and has been met with the financial assistance of concerned viewers of the interview.  However, the vengeful, family-destroying Massachusetts Department of Children & Families (DCF) filed charges against Mr. Pelletier for doing the interview and breaking his government-imposed silence.

Whether Judge Joseph Johnston follows through with his threats to punish the Pelletier family for speaking about their own situation remains to be seen.   The charges against Lou Pelletier will be weighed in court, and if sustained, he could face additional fines or even jail time.

READ MORE:  Father charged for speaking about his daughter’s kidnapping

Earnest thanks goes to all those who have contributed to the operation of this website. We are committed to covering
stories that remain conspicuously ignored by the national mainstream media, and your generous support is essential
to effectively distributing this message. Many victims of government-sanctioned violence offer their gratitude.

Alert_HandBlinkingTake Action

Help the Pelletiers as they try to keep up with legal fees:  www.freejustina.com
Please put pressure on those who can make a difference and help to return Justina home.

DCF Commissioner Olga I. Roche
DCF Website
600 Washington Street Boston, MA 02111
Phone: 617-748-2000
Email:  dcfcommissioner@state.ma.us
Judge Joseph Johnston:  LinkedIn
Child Protection Program Office: 617-355-7979

Responsible for encouraging Justina being taken from her parents:
Boston Children’s HospitalFacebook:  BostonChildrensHospital
Boston Children’s Hospital
300 Longwood Avenue Boston, MA 02115
Phone: 617-355-6000
Dr. Jurriaan Peters
300 Longwood Ave. Boston, MA 02115
Phone: (617) 355-6117 (Office)

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Friday, February 21, 2014

Definitely One of the Best People in the World…

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Wednesday, February 19, 2014

VIDEO: Eminem, Ice Cube and Korn Team Up with Anonymous to Call For Global Revolution




The word "epic" long ago lost all its linguistic potency when Burger King and Hot Topic began to use it in the advertisement of their products. Yet if ever if there was an occasion to resurrect the term, it would be to describe the music video released today by elements of Anonymous along with Ice Cube, Eminem, and Korn. 
They team up to splice together a nuance-eschewing, face-melting, testosterone-charged collaboration meant to incept a massive wave of action against the seemingly indomitable power of corporatist-totalitarianism within the world's leading liberal republics. 
The video features some hilarious spots of Rob Ford--perhaps the Western world's most flamboyant symbol of transparent corpo-political stoogism--as well as the mainstream media's two favorite tools of distraction, Justin Bieber and Miley Cyrus. There are also a number of clips of Obama acting especially bourgeois while surrounded by animated cameras, implying that the spying-industrial-complex is an apolitical institution supported and grown by whichevever political party is in office.
Ice Cube, Eminem and Korn hit the peak of their musical careers within the mainstream musical establishment over a decade ago, which probably engenders them with a degree of freedom to partake in such an overtly political project.
It might be the most insane music video you've seen in a long time--and for some, it may inspire the visceral outrage necessary to orient toward a path of action. Others will just roll their eyes. 
Check out the video below, and keep in mind the Worldwide Wave of Action  begins on April 4 at "former occupation sites around the world."
Aaron CantĂș is an investigator for the Marijuana Arrest Research Project and an independent journalist based in Brooklyn. Follow him on Twitter @aaronmiguel_


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Man Loses Pulse for 45 Minutes, Wakes Up with Incredible Vision of Afterlife

Jeremy Tanner
PIX11


BEACHWOOD, Ohio (PIX11) - A trucker in Ohio shocked hospital staff after coming back to life nearly an hour after he lost his pulse following a massive heart attack — but it’s what he claims to have seen during those tense moments that has him sure there’s an afterlife.
Brian Miller, 41, was opening the lid of a container when he knew something felt wrong — he immediately called 911 and told the operator, “I’m a truck driver and I think I’m having a heart attack.”
Sure enough, his main artery was completely blocked — causing what’s known as a “widow-maker” heart attack, Fox 8 Cleveland reported.
Screen Shot 2014-02-18 at 3.30.03 PM
Brian Miller, 41, is miraculously functioning normally after being technically dead for 45 minutes following a massive heart attack.
He was rushed to a local hospital where doctors managed to revive him and clear the blockage, but after regaining consciousness and feeling the pain dissipate, he developed ventricular fibrillation, when the heart starts quivering wildly and is unable to pump blood.
“He had no heart rate, he had no blood pressure, he had no pulse,” said ICU nurse Emily Bishop. “I mean think about that.”
Doctor’s performed “strong, hard, fast CPR” and shocked Miller four times to try to revive him, but had no luck.
Screen Shot 2014-02-18 at 3.29.48 PM
After the heavenly vision Miller claims, “there is an afterlife and people need to believe in it, big time.”
It was during that time that Miller said he slipped away into a celestial world, “The only thing I remember I started seeing the light, and started walking toward the light.”
He described walking down a flower-lined path into white light — until he came upon his step mother, who had died recently, “She was the most beautiful thing when I seen her, it was like the first day I met her, (she) looked so happy.”
Miller remembered, “She grabbed ahold of my arm and told me, ‘It’s not your time, you don’t need to be here, we’ve got to take you back you’ve got things to go and do.’”
Screen Shot 2014-02-18 at 3.29.10 PM
ICU nurse at Ahuja Medical Center Emily Bishop calls Miller’s recovery “amazing.”
After 45 minutes his pulse returned “out of nowhere,” Bishop said.  ”His brain had no oxygen for 45 minutes, the fact that he’s up walking, talking, laughing, everything is amazing.”
Glad to be back amongst the living, Miller now says there is one thing he is sure of, “There is an afterlife and people need to believe in it, big time.”

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Tuesday, February 18, 2014

I Traveled to Palestine-Israel And Discovered There is no 'Palestinian-Israeli Conflict'

Ferrari Sheppard
Huffington Post

palestine
The mind has a way of making traumatic experiences seem like distant dreams to those who survive them. As it goes, the more traumatic the experience, the quicker the paramedics in one's mind rush to dress wounds, resuscitate and stabilize the victim; the victim being you.
Since returning from Palestine 36 hours ago, I find myself confronted with feelings of detachment and minimization of what I encountered. My subconscious has decided the horrors I witnessed in the 'Holy Land' were nothing serious-horrors which include a 26-foot-tall concrete wall enclosing the Palestinian inhabitants of the West Bank, and the sniper towers seemingly on every other corner of this open-air prison.
This was my first trip to Palestine-most westerners call it Israel, but I'll address that topic shortly. I had never been to the country, but I read enough to know the basics: Palestinians and Israelis were fighting over land. The Israeli government was formed in 1948 as part of a vision set forth by a secular European colonial political movement called Zionism, founded by Hungarian Theodor Herzl in 1896. Herzl, an atheist, sought to free the Jews from European oppression and anti-Semitism, with the ultimate goal being the creation of a Jewish state. He first proposed East Africa's Uganda as the location of the Jewish state. This proposal also found the approval of the British government which controlled Palestine since the First World War. Herzl, however, later identified Palestine as the country of choice. I knew this.
The history of Palestinians was something I was familiar with as well, only because in high school, my friend's parents were Moroccan Jews with staunch right-wing Zionist views. They'd go on about how Palestinians were worth shit and how they were sucking off the land they stole, and how they were not from Palestine, but Jordan. Truth be told, my friend's parents' passion about their 'homeland' made me sick. As a black person living in the United States, I could not relate to their love for their proclaimed homeland because I never had one. My ancestors were captured from various regions of Africa and forced onto ships bound for the Americas. Therefore, when questioned about the geographic origins of my ancestors, my answers were as vague as Africa is big.
Blurt
Before I go further, I must put to rest a misnomer. Contrary to what's been reported in the news for years, there is no Israeli-Palestinian conflict. None, zero, zilch, diddly-squat. I can say with confidence that Palestinians have no agency. The Israeli government controls everything in the country. This total control which is most magnified in the West Bank, concerns everything from where Palestinians are permitted to travel, to how much water they consume per month. Currently, there is no 'conflict,' only the omnipresent power of the Israeli government and those who resist it. This is important to understand.
Where was I?
I began researching the history of Palestinians in my senior year of college and discovered that my high school buddy's parents weren't only functionally insane, but they were completely incorrect in their claims. Palestinians had not fallen from the clouds and landed on Jewish land, (interpretations of certain religious texts would suggest otherwise) but had inhabited the country for thousands of years. In fact, Palestine hosted several occupations throughout history: Ancient Egyptians, Canaanites, Israelites, Philistines, Tjekker, Assyrians, Babylonians, Persians, Ancient Greeks, Romans, Byzantines, Muslims, Crusaders, Ayyubids, Mamluks, Ottomans, British, Jordanians- a gang bang of military occupations. Nasty.
American author and Professor of Political Science Alan Dowty put it best when hewrote, "Palestinians are the descendants of all the indigenous peoples who lived in Palestine over the centuries." Moreover, studies suggest, that part, if not the majority of Arabs living in Palestine, descend from a core population that dates back thousands of years.
Perhaps it would be easier for me to believe the story of Palestinians falling from the clouds, or crossing into Palestine from Jordan shortly before the creation of Israel -- that is, if my perception were formed by mainstream western media. In the years prior to the events of 9/11, including the initial months of the Second Intifada, media outlets such as Fox, CNN, and BBC, unfolded one dimensional narratives which included bloodthirsty Palestinians blowing themselves up in public places, killing innocent people. Never did they examine the societal constraints and conditions which might drive people to commit such atrocities.
In order for colonialism and occupation to be successful, previous inhabitants of a region must be dehumanized, labeled savages, and finally, their very existence denied. Once this paradigm has been established, any and all acts of horror can be inflicted upon them without recourse. Thus, the stories of the oppressed become irrelevant.
2014-02-10-checkpointhebron1.jpg
Members of our delegation show passports at checkpoint entering illegal settlements in Hebron, West Bank. Jewish Israelis are permitted entry, internationals must present passports and endure interrogation and Palestinians are not allowed. Photo: Thomas Dallal

Getting in and out
In the weeks preceding my departure from Chicago's O'Hare International Airport to Tel Aviv, I received travel warnings from The Carter Center, the organization responsible for sponsoring my trip. Our delegation, which consisted of prominent African-American journalists and artists, was provided suggestions of how to increase our chances of getting into Palestine-Israel. It is not uncommon for travelers to be denied entry into the country for absurd reasons such as their father's last name sounds Arab, or they criticized Israeli policy on a social networking website. I decided I would tell my Israeli interrogators the truth, but be as vague as possible.
If denied entry, travelers could be detained for hours, interrogated and forced to board an airplane back to where their flight originated. Other visitors to the region advised me to avoid saying words like "Palestine," "Palestinian," "solidarity," and "West Bank" inside of Israel's airport. I was also advised to sanitize my email in the event that Israeli officials requested my password in order to rummage through my inbox. Unfortunately, this is a common experience for Palestinian-Americans attempting to visit the country. Additionally, I was warned that Israeli authorities, on occasion, provoke visitors by being rude, or asking inappropriate questions-they aim to cause one to feel as though they've done something wrong. In my case, this tactic was working. I felt I was committing a crime by wishing to enter the West Bank to talk to Palestinians. Israel was getting to me already, and I hadn't left my apartment.
How things work
I reached Tel Aviv's Ben Gurion Airport and made my way up a flight of stairs leading to a long, wide, windowed corridor filled with travelers speed-walking towards their destination. To my left were palm trees of a country I was hoping to enter, and fixed high above was the sun, whispering the arduous tale of humankind.
I had made it to customs. It resembled a race track betting area with fifteen booths and neon signs fixed to them which read, "Israeli Citizens" and "Foreigners." I got into the foreigner line. Inside the booth sat an Israeli woman, maybe 20 years old. She looked sad and beautiful.
"Passport," she said in a dry tone.
I gave it to her.
"What is the reason for your visit?"
I smiled and replied, "A tour of the holy land."
She examined my passport, then she examined my face,"Will you be visiting the West Bank or Gaza?"
I said, "No," without thinking.
"Where will you be going?" she asked.
"Jerusalem, Bethlehem and Nazareth," I replied.
She examined my passport again, "Do know any Palestinians?" she asked.
I smirked and lied, "No."
I was officially permitted into the state of Israel. I found my taxi driver, loaded my carry-on bag into the trunk, and we were off. Leaving Israel would not be so easy, but I'll save that story for another time.
Riding from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, the first thing I noticed, besides the breathtaking Palestinian landscape with its palm trees, olive trees and immense hills and valleys, were walls and barbwire. There were literally hundreds of miles of concrete walls and barbwire-not the kind one sees on a Los Angeles off-ramp, but those belonging to a prison
I'd later find out that a portion of my 90-minute ride from the airport to Jerusalem gave a brief look at "Area-C." As it goes, the occupied West Bank is divided into three parts: "Area-A," "Area-B" and "Area-C." "Area-C" is controlled by the Israeli government, while "Area-A" is supposedly under the control of the Palestinian Authority (or PA), a self-governing body established to govern the West Bank and Gaza Strip ("Area-B" is under glorified Palestinian municipal control and Israeli security control). The reason I say "supposedly," is because after spending a week in the country, I began wondering if the area classifications were simply a broad public relations campaign to convince the world that Palestinians have a degree of military, political, and economic power they do not have. This is not a far-fetched inquiry. Since the second Oslo Accords in 1995, the Israeli government has asserted, and the international community has accepted, the notion that "Area-A" is under PA control, but on the ground, the PA acts as a subcontracted enforcer to the Israeli occupiers.
The Reality
In Jerusalem, I witnessed great religious and ethnic diversity. I saw Arabs, Asians, Europeans, Africans, Orthodox Jews, Muslims, Christians, all scrambling in Old City Jerusalem towards their various destinations. It was postcard worthy.
The variety of cultures in Jerusalem is outstanding. Similar to many societies however, Palestine-Israel presents a polished version of itself to tourists, where 5-star hotels in Tel Aviv and tourist attractions in Jerusalem cloak its brutal realities. The fact remains that our delegation was subject to a type of racism I've only experienced in the southern states of the United States of America. Of course, to a Jew or a middle class Palestinian living in Jerusalem or Nazareth, my observations may sound like exaggerations, but for the African migrant sleeping on the ground in South Tel Aviv, or for Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza, my evaluations are dead on.
The blatant, systemic subjugation and profiling of Arabs was most pronounced when our tour guide, a middle class Palestinian woman, was forced by IDF soldiers to exit our tour van and pass through a checkpoint on foot. As all Palestinians must do, she was told to place her thumb on a scanner to pass through a turn-style at a checkpoint. The members of our delegation were no exception to IDF scrutiny. The light skinned blacks in our delegation were interrogated and asked bluntly if they were Arab, and if not, what the last names of their fathers' were.
Palestinians and progressive Israelis told our delegation story after story of the abuses and degradation they've suffered at the hands of Israeli settlers or soldiers, and we witnessed some of this treatment first hand. Along with the rampant home and land confiscation in the West Bank (in which settlers receive state subsidies), agricultural violence is on the rise, as settlers uproot and destroy the olive trees Palestinians rely on for income and nourishment. More sinisterly, public beatings, arrests and shootings are common, particularly in the West Bank. Without charges, a Palestinian can be imprisoned and held for months or years under administrative detention. The same law does not apply to Jewish Israelis. In fact, Israeli citizens can commit a range of crimes against Palestinians with near impunity. Furthermore, Israelis benefit from being under police and civil courts jurisdiction, while Palestinians are under military jurisdiction. Human Rights Watch has documented the "Separate and Unequal" legal situation endured by Palestinians.
2014-02-10-susya.jpg
Yehuda Shaul (seen in orange shirt) lectures our delegation near village of Susya. Photo: Thomas Dallal

Our delegation was introduced to Yehuda Shaul, a former commander in the Israeli army and current Foreign Relations Director for Breaking the Silence, an organization of former IDF soldiers who have dedicated themselves to revealing the atrocities committed against Palestinians, as well as the general corruption of higher-ups in the Israeli government. Yehuda, a heavyset man wearing a yarmulke, still moves and speaks like a soldier. As we drove up and down the hills of South Hebron, Yehuda's lecture quickly began to feel like a general preparing a platoon for an offensive. He even revealed Israel's plan to force rural Palestinians away from their land and into West Bank cities, making them dependent on the government.
As a liberal Israeli, Yehuda believes in granting rights to Palestinians and developing a two-state Israeli-Palestinian solution. Yehuda is still a Zionist, and beyond lecturing about various land grabs, violence and injustices committed by Israeli settlers and the government, the 31-year-old steers away from revealing his personal story, which likely involves his journey as an IDF commander who terrorized Palestinian neighbourhoods, to the activist he is today who accepts that Palestinians are human.
Yehuda commanded our Palestinian driver to stop on the side of a road near an illegal Israeli settlement in the village of Susya. I point out that our driver was Palestinian because stopping in Susya was extremely dangerous for the three Palestinians in our van. Susya is home to armed, right-wing Israeli settlers who as Yehuda admitted, would "beat up" Palestinians on sight. Our Palestinian colleagues stayed in the van.
For some reason, Yehuda was compelled to conduct his lecture outside of the bus while our delegation shivered from a mountainous chill. It was then that a dusty car stopped feet away from us, engine running, with the driver focusing a murderous stare on our group. Yehuda kept lecturing as though nothing was happening, and our delegation pretended to listen as we remained vigilant for the deranged onlooker. The man examined us for a minute more, then sped off violently to return moments later to repeat this action. Sensing danger, I suggested to Yehuda we get back in the van and leave, but he ordered us to remain outside.
"This will only take a few minutes more," he said, before continuing his lecture.
The rapid fire gunshots we heard in the distance gave us our cue to finally return to the van. The moment we were about to drive off, Israeli army vehicles pulled up, and a few soldiers peered in at us. They took a quick inventory of the van and then sped off. Apparently, during our lecture, Israeli settlers were attacking a group of Palestinians. I had seen enough.
Zionism has convinced many Jews that they are preserving themselves. The common thought is that if the "savage" Palestinians stop resisting, stop shooting rockets, stop fighting Israel's inevitable domination, there can be peace. I find this peculiar because during my visit, I felt no danger from Palestinians, only from Israeli soldiers. Perhaps it's because I'm accustomed to being hunted in America. There is no Palestinian-Israeli conflict; there is only oppression.
I will never disregard the Holocaust which left millions of European Jews dead or scrambling for survival. There is nothing that will ever right the wrongs committed by the brutal German regime. On the same note, I will never minimize Germany's first, and little-known, genocide against the Herero and Namaqua of Africa, or King Leopold's bloody reign on the continent. Tragedy is tragedy, one should not be placed above the other, nor should a past tragedy justify the next.
Ferrari Sheppard is Editor-in-Chief of Stop Being Famous
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