|5 May 2004 @ 22:25|
The Sulha: Reconciliation in the Middle East
by Ilan Zamir (with Menahem Benhayim)
This article originally appeared in ISSUES 6:4
The policeman gaped at me, unable to suppress his astonishment. "Man, that's dangerous what you want to do. You can get into serious trouble. You're an Israeli Jew and these people you want to meet are Arabs on the West Bank.…"
I knew he meant well; he was a fellow Jew who wanted me to avoid a potentially explosive encounter with "the other side."
"Still, I feel I have to talk with them," I persisted, though my voice did shake a bit.
"The boy is already dead." He was doing his best to dissuade me. "How will it help for you to express your regrets now?"
He had a point. Obviously, expressing regret for the tragedy would not raise the dead. There I was, an Israeli Jew trying to contact an Arab family living under Israeli occupation. Further, I was coming to them as the driver of the car which had struck their boy in a fatal road accident. The accident wasn't my fault. I would have my day in court (and in fact was found innocent), but I felt the situation called for more than a dry and impersonal legal action.
"There are spiritual values I must deal with," I tried to explain to the policeman. He nodded, not in agreement, but in resignation, as if to say it was beyond his grasp why I should want to visit the family of the dead boy in their Arab village outside Jerusalem.
I told a friend of mine in Jerusalem about my desire to meet with the Arab family, and mentioned the policeman's warning about the risk involved. The concept of "avenger of the blood" from Bible times flashed in my memory with ominous portent:
…anyone who slays any person without intent…shall flee to the city of refuge…lest the avenger of blood in hot anger pursue the manslayer…(Numbers 35; Deuteronomy 19)
Would I be considered a manslayer whose blood had to be shed by a family avenger? I recalled stories I'd read of unfortunate Muslims who were murdered by members of their own family. The victims had deviated from their tribal code and thus had "stained the family honor." Would "honor" demand that my life be considered forfeit by the family of the dead boy? It would not be honest to say such thoughts never entered my mind. Yet there were other, more pressing thoughts.
I told my friend how again and again I relived the horrible memory of that dark dreadful night and my drive through El-Azariya. I was headed home to Jerusalem. I saw the figure darting out in front of my car, heard the screeching of my brakes, and the frantic honking of my horn. Within a fraction of a second, there was the sickening, dull thud of impact and the shrieks of pain from the boy who never heard the warning of the horn. He could not hear it, as I later learned, because he was deaf. Next came the nightmarish wailing of the police sirens and ambulance. Then came the days of waiting and hoping…and finally, the cruel news: the boy had died. He was only 13 years old.
My friend listened to my story without much comment. When I was through he said quietly, "Lord, I know an Arab believer in Y'shua, Pastor Suhail Ramadan. He is familiar with many different communities and customs in Israel. Let's consult with him."
Mediators and Interpreters
I had heard of this pastor. He was a respected leader of a congregation in Galilee as well as a chaplain to Arab prisoners in Israel. When my friend explained the situation, Pastor Ramadan immediately offered his help. Our goal was to arrange a "sulha," a reconciliation meeting with the Arab Muslim family of the deceased. An Arab believer who lived in the same village as the bereaved family would help make the arrangements. We also contacted an English woman, a journalist, who had connections with the village. through her we met Abu Musa, a building contractor who had served in the British Army during the Second World War. He agreed to mediate and interpret in arranging the reconciliation. He also recruited his uncle, who was a mukhtar (respected leader) in the community. The uncle was a retired pious Muslim who had made the hadj, the pilgrimage to Mecca.
It was about a month after the accident that we met in the house of one of Abu Musa's sons for an "exploratory" meeting. I was nervous and irritable as my friend drove me to the meeting.…
I thought of the gap between my background as a "sabra" (one who had grown up in a secular Israeli atmosphere) and that of the Arabs we were to meet. At the same time, I realized that in many ways, my life was as different from my fellow sabras as it was from the Arab Muslims I was about to meet…for I was a Israeli Jew who believed in Y'shua (Jesus).
My faith in Y'shua has sometimes led to hard feelings and occasional hostility, but when it comes to the issue of Y'shua as Messiah, I can understand and know how to handle it. On the other hand, with the Arab Muslims I was exposing myself to a possible collision with a culture which was not only alien to me, but one which viewed me as a hostile foreign invader. I began to imagine graphically chilling versions of the upcoming encounter. "Maybe the Jewish policeman was right," I allowed myself to think. "Maybe I'm taking too much of a risk." Yet I could not allow these fears to guide me. Principles, not fear, were behind my desire for the sulha. I had to hold tightly to those principles, and trust God to see me through.
A Preliminary Meeting
When we arrived at the village, Abu Musa was waiting outside his son's house. He invited us into a spacious living room, where I immediately noticed his uncle, the mukhtar. He was dressed in traditional Arab attire, an impressive Oriental figure with lively blue eyes. He greeted us warmly.
"Marhaba (Welcome)." I spoke the traditional Arabic greeting.
"Marhabteen (Your are twice welcome)," he replied.
The old mukhtar understood English but preferred to speak in Arabic, with his nephew acting as translator. Abu Musa had explained many details of the situation to him before we arrived.
"What kind of work does the young man do?" the uncle asked, pointing in my direction.
"You can classify me as a student," I replied.
The mukhtar shook his head slightly, though for a moment, then asked, "And how much does he think he can offer the bereavved family?" Almost immediately he added with a slight smile," Of course the family may refuse any offer of money." His voice was deep and resonant, but also earnest and not threatening. His nephew Abu Musa explained, "Sometimes it is customary to press a few bills into the hands of the mother of the family towards the end of the sulha."
"Would 200 dollars be enough?" I asked./p>
My friend, who was closely following the conversation, interjected, choosing his words very carefully, "It may be that there are expenses for the good services of arranging the sulha?" The uncle and Abu Musa understood the suggestion, and though not offended, they forcefully rejected the offer.
"No! No!" The mukhtar emphasized. "My work is to make peace between people; the only payment I ask is peace, nothing more." Our hosts passed around fruit and water on a beautifully decorated tray while Abu Musa explained that his uncle would make contact with the bereaved family, ascertain the terms of the sulha, the amount of money required, the meeting time and the names of the persons who would be present. If everything was agreed upon, another meeting would be held before the actual sulha with the family.
An "Astonishing" Revelation
"My uncle esteems you very highly," Abu Musa remarked to me in English. "You are not a part of the village, nor even an Arab, and you are asking to arrange a sulha with a family you don't even know."
"I think that's the minimum I can do," I replied sadly.
"Nevertheless, he would like assurances that you won't back down at a later stage, because that would cause him to lose face very badly," he explained.
"Tell him I won't back down, for me this is a matter of faith," I answered at once.
My friend added, "We believe in the Holy Scriptures…in the Torah and in the Injil (the Gospels).
The old man raised his eyebrows in surprise. "Are you not Jews? Yet you believe in the Injil?" There was a touch of astonishment in his voice.
My friend answered, "Yes, certainly we are Jews. We believe in the Hebrew Scriptures and also in the New Covenant, and there it is written, 'Let your yea be yea, and your nay be nay." If Ilan has said he will not back down, then Inshalla (God willing) so it shall be."
The old man chuckled in undisguised mirth, and then with an air of solemn authority remarked, "Well, then, all you two need now is to believe in the Holy Koran, and you will be good Muslims, for we too believe in the Torah and in the Injil."
We smiled politely, embarrassed by the proposal. Suddenly the old man turned to my friend and asked, "Tell me, do you believe in the Trinity?"
"We believe that God was revealed in Y'shua the Messiah," he replied.
"Oh, then you believe in three gods!" came the old uncle's rejoinder. His triumphant tone suggested he felt he had beaten us at a game of theology.
"No, absolutely not," my friend countered. "We believe in the one true God who is revealed in three persons."
The old man smiled politely without uttering a word. His smile seemed to say, "That is not my opinion, but not is not the time to debate theology."
Just then our hosts brought in a tray of hot coffee in delicate little white cups. The coffee was black and heavily sweetened, and we understood it was a signal that the meeting was drawing to a close. We drank, rose from our seats, shook hands all around, and agreed to continue our contact with Abu Musa.
A report on the preliminary meeting was passed onto Pastor Ramadan in Galilee. He put us in touch with Munir Kakish, a pastor from Ramallah, an Arab town not far from Jerusalem. Pastor Kakish had spent a number of years in the West, so he was familiar with both Eastern and Western cultures.
"It would be better if there were a stronger representation of believers in the Messiah at the sulha," he observed. "It isn't good for one side to be over-represented." I smiled as I thought of the balance of forces among the different communities in our region. It plays a crucial and unsettling part in the Middle Eastern affairs. "It is also important that everything be completely understood by the mukhtar, the old man who is mediating, before the meeting with the family," he added.
"What about the amount of money as a gift?" I asked.
"I'll tell you, my family originated in the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan. There the custom is to offer a gift at the sulha, which the family formally rejects in the name of the Prophet and in the name of the king. If that is the way things work here, I'm not altogether sure. We must take into consideration the fact that you are not Arabs, and you have no ties to the village. In any case, it would be best to bring along money in case it is needed."
After a few phone calls, it was arranged to meet once more with the mukhtar at his son's home. Immediately afterwards, we would move on to the home of the bereaved family.
We left Jerusalem early in the afternoon, and reached the meeting place by three o'clock. It was a pleasant spring day, and the sun shone down on the old houses and narrow lanes of the village. We entered the house, and I saw the Ramallah pastor for the first time. He was young, balding, somewhat heavy, with a congenial manner. He welcomed us warmly in fluent English, while the old mukhtar rose to meet us, extending his hand in friendship. Our hosts brought out the traditional tray of fruit, this time accompanied by delicate cups of hot sweetened black coffee. The room was buzzing with Arabic conversation, with bits of translation from time to time by the Ramallah pastor.
"The family is willing to receive you and to forgive you; neither are they asking for any financial compensation. They will be satisfied with what they receive from the insurance company," he informed us.
"Still, I've brought money along, and I'm prepared to pay them" I assured him.
"No," the old man responded with emphasis, "it is not necessary." Then he arose from his seat, signaling us that we were to move on. We proceeded to the home of the bereaved family, who lived only a few yards away from the scene of the accident. As we drove up, a sudden wave of sorrow overcame me once again.
"Oh God," I prayed, "if only I could wipe out that tragic moment. Help me to endure this difficult testing." I thought of the verse: And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose. (Romans 8:28)
As we approached the large two-story, Arab-style home, the dead boy's father strode out to meet us. He greeted us, and cast a quick, gloomy glance at me. Then, with a swift sweep of his hand, he invited us to enter. I looked sideways at him as we moved along. He was a young, mustached dark-haired man. He walked with short brisk steps and spoke in a tense, high-pitched voice. My heart ached at the thought of his sorrow as we entered the large salon. The room was lined with sofas and chairs in a kind of circle against the brightly colored walls which were hung with beautiful Oriental tapestries We sat down and waited while the mukhtar and others engaged in animated conversation in Arabic. The pastor from Ramallah translated here and there for my friend and me.
An old grandfather quietly entered the room. He was dressed in traditional garb, his face was wrinkled and his body wizened. He told us a story of reconciliation which had happened 40 years ago. He had witnessed an accident in which a boy, a relative of the family, had been run over and killed by a driver form Hebron. When he realized the boy was dead, he covered the body and urged the driver to flee from the scene before other members of the family arrived. They would have lynched him on the spot. Later, the grandfather arranged for a sulha. The Hebronite offered money to the family, but they refused payment and forgave him.
Other members of the family entered the room: the old granny who had witnessed the accident, and a brother-in-law, a young man who spoke fluent Hebrew. From time to time, the father of the boy would enter and leave, tightlipped and seeming to scowl.
"It is still difficult for him to keep from weeping at the memory of his son. He does not want to weep in our presence," the brother-in-law explained in Hebrew.
Finally the father of the boy sat down and cups of black sweetened coffee were passed around on a tray. We all rose, and Pastor Kakish began to translate into English the conclusion of the sulha.
"Know that the family does not desire any money, but they receive this tragedy as from the hand of God, and they forgive you for your part in the affair. From now on they see you as a member of the family."
The cups of coffee remained on the table, untouched. According to tradition, the father would be the first to taste from the cup as a sign that he accepted the reconciliation gesture, and had indeed agreed to forgive. The tension in his face had cast a shadow on the proceedings until then, but at that point, he suddenly began to smile. The lines of grief softened. He looked at me squarely and his smile broadened as he moved towards me, opening his arms in a gesture of embrace. As we met and embraced, he kissed me ceremonially three times on the cheeks. Everyone began to shake hands with one another as the father sipped coffee. The whole atmosphere was transformed, the tension at an end.
An Adopted Son
I was overwhelmed by a desire to speak, so I turned to the Hebrew-speaking brother-in-law and asked him to translate for me.
"I want you to understand how much I am in sorrow about this accident," I began, "and how much I appreciate your readiness to forgive and to receive me."
They all began to shake their heads and mumble in Arabic. "They are saying there is no need to apologize now; they forgive you, and you can forget about the matter," I was told.
I thanked them as I sensed the sulha was drawing to a close. Suddenly, the brother-in-law turned to me. His voice was full of pathos, and I was reminded of the chanting of a cantor in the synagogue as he addressed me in Hebrew sing-song.
"Know, O my brother, that you are in place of this son who has died. You have a family and a home somewhere else, but know that here is your second home. Whenever you wish to come, at whichever hour you wish to come, this is your home."
"Peace be unto you!"
I shook his hand fervently. "Thank you, thank you so much. I will truly come."
I gulped down the remainder of my coffee and placed it back on the tray which was set on the table. I turned to the mukhtar who was still seated on the sofa, his eyes glowing. "You are a righteous man," I said in English. "Thank you so much for your help." He smiled at me a paternal smile, and thanked his nephew Abu Musa and all the others for their cooperation.
"Ma salaami (Peace be unto you)," we said to one another as we parted.
In the west the sun was beginning to set as I turned my face towards Jerusalem.
|15 Apr 2004 @ 01:15|
Published on Wednesday, April 7, 2004 by the Globe and Mail / Canada
The Third World War is Now From Palestine to Iraq, the Region is Aflame with Conflict yet the Need for Dialogue is Ignored
by Prince El Hassan bin Talal
A friend of mine recently visited a family in a small Palestinian
village on the border between Israel and the West Bank. It was, he said, like walking into a real-life version of Goldilocks and the Three Bears.
The table was laid, the dinner was ready -- but no one was there to eat it.
He continued through the house, eventually finding the family on the
roof, huddled together, crying as they watched a bulldozer tear up their orchard. The parents and their children were watching their land and their livelihood disappear behind Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's new eight-meter-high security fence, which has been erected throughout the country.
The driver of the bulldozer, an Israeli, said to them afterward, "For every tree I pulled out of the ground, it was like killing a person. It tore at my heart, but I am under orders."
The tragedy is that while they might be on opposite sides of the conflict, these are ordinary, moderate human beings whose lives are being ruined by governments, terrorism and the cruel, unilateral nature of international politics.
It is not only in this deeply troubled country that such problems occur.
Across the Middle East, for every orchard that is ripped apart, there is an olive branch torn down.
The Iraqis have watched their constitution being changed to allow foreign companies to own 100 per cent of Iraqi assets, except natural resources; the Lebanese live under constant threat of an Israeli air strike; and two weeks ago, the world witnessed Sheik Ahmed Yassin being assassinated.
Sheik Yassin was the founder of the terrorist group Hamas. I abhor suicide bombings; they are an affront to humanity. It must be remembered, however, that to his many supporters in the Islamic world he was an important spiritual leader.
Terrorism, violence, the proliferation of weapons, human-rights abuses and preventable or avoidable conflicts -- all these issues are debated day and night on Arab television. Across the region, millions perceive a denial of the inherent dignity that we all share -- equally -- as creatures of God, living under one sun, on a fragile earth upon which we all depend.
So perhaps it is no surprise that the mood is becoming ugly. In Jordan, where I live, and in countries throughout the Middle East, I witness the growing tensions and resentment every day.
Israel and Hezbollah are bombing in Southern Lebanon; in Syria there are
conflicts between Kurds and Arabs; in the Gulf there are tensions between the Sunnis and the Shiites. Iran, still anchored on the axis of evil, gains strength, day by day, with Shia and other sympathizers around the world. The makings of a third world war are taking place in front of our eyes.
There are more than 40 so-called low-intensity conflicts in the world today. Maybe it is not the Third World War if you are living in Manchester or Stockholm, but if I were in Madrid when the bombs at the station went off, it would look very much like the Third World War to me.
What must it take to move away from the madness that is sweeping the region? The extremists are engaging more and more moderate citizens, Who are becoming increasingly disillusioned and desperate. The blame for
this cannot simply be laid at the West's door. We must also look closer
The governments of the Middle East are losing touch with reality. While
they fight to hold on to their position, the power vacuum is being filled by extremist movements. It is they who provide compensation for children who are killed in conflict, who provide soup kitchens to feed the starving and, in so doing, enlist an increasing number of supporters for their wars.
Make no mistake that this is a world war, albeit not like any we have seen before. The conflict is not being fought by regimented armies of men, but by individuals and by small terrorist cells on our streets and in our homes. The human race has now reached such a point that we are arguing the merits of killing a half-blind man in a wheelchair on one side, and the blowing up of 200 innocent Spanish citizens on their way to work on the other.
Significantly, neither action has brought us any closer to ending the conflict. Sheik Yassin's assassination has only served to elevate him to
martyrdom, and will undoubtedly incite further violence in his name. We
must remember the real danger of such an act, which could change the agenda from Palestinian-Israeli confrontation to that between Arabs, Christians, Muslims and Jews.
Sheik Yassin's killing, like every other killing, whether it is justified by states or by individual groups, takes us several steps away from what must be the overall objective: comprehensive peace in the region.
All initiatives in the Middle East, through NATO, the G8, the Developing
8 Muslim Countries (the D8), focus on what appears to be the business of
the moment: security, security, security. I'd like to see them focus on dialogue, dialogue, dialogue.
What we really need is a Treaty of Versailles for our region, where everyone can sit down together and work towards peace. Experience has taught me that it is better for all parties to be at the table for peace talks, so that no one is left off the menu.
In this, the Middle East is at fault. Each nationality sits behind closed doors. I have sat with them, and all agree with the need for a multilateral security system. But when they come into the broad light of day, they are only worried for their own bilateral agreements with the United States. That attitude must change.
And the West, too, must adopt a different approach. Its member states need to move from the narrow day-to-day perspective of politics as usual
and policies that deal with hard security -- the use of the military to control borders and regimes, and too great an emphasis on economics and
My greatest fear is that if we continue to depend on the rule of force and on power as a deterrent, eventually we will be unable to disable violence.
We must become more sensitized to the concept of consequences: the
consequences of poverty, illiteracy, oppression, lack of opportunity, despair and anger -- all of which can all lead to the contemplation of violence.
We are standing on the brink and that is something that binds us all together: the Israeli who thinks he will be killed by a suicide bomber, the Libyan by an air strike or the Westerner by a random terrorist attack.
So rather than fight a war on terror, why not wage a struggle for the rule of peace? The Arabic word hamas means zeal, but flip it on its head, to samah, and it stands for tolerance. Sometimes you just have to look at things in a different way.
Prince El Hassan bin Talal, brother of the late King Hussein of Jordan, is the moderator of the World Conference on Religion and Peace, president of the Club of Rome, and president of the Arab Thought Forum.
© Copyright 2004 Bell Globemedia Publishing Inc.
|19 Feb 2004 @ 08:01|
I received this email and thanks to vaxen's comment on my previous article I was inspired to post this...
First of all, please forgive me for taking up space in your inbox when I
don't know you. Don't worry: I will never contact you again unless you
choose to reply to my message. I hate spam as much as you do, and I
would never do this if something very important wasn't at stake. My name is Anna--yes, an actual human being is sending this, not a machine--and I've put hours of work into creating and manually sending out this letter
because there's something I believe you and all Americans have a right
Our right to fair elections is in danger.
Right now, in over half of all US states, elections are run by private
corporations which control the electronic voting machines that have
replaced physical paper ballots. These corporations have little or no
accountability—election officials aren't even allowed to examine the
machines in depth or check the source codes of the programs which count
our votes! As more than one expert has pointed out, slot machines are
Needless to say, the possibility of accident or fraud is enormous. If
we don't act soon, the presidential election next year may make the one in
2000 look like a walk in the park.
Please read the article below for more information, then see the end of
this email for instructions on how to take action.
The following article, slightly condensed, originally appeared in the
Hightower Lowdown, a publication put out by Texas Congressman Jim
Hightower. Please note that while you may or may not agree with Mr.
Hightower's politics, his facts have been independently verified.
WHO'S COUNTING OUR VOTES? By Jim Hightower
Welcome to WallyWorld. In the futuristic Land of Wally, elections take
place in cyberspace, and the voting process has been privatized. Indeed,
voting machines themselves are owned and tightly controlled by a small
group of for-profit corporations. These corporate machines "count" the
votes and issue a cyber-tally to declare the winner. The inner workings
of the machinery are a corporate secret—public election officials are
barred from examining the computer code to see if any flaws (or fraud) have been programmed into the system. Even in cases where recounts are ordered, only the corporate owners get to peek inside the computers' innards.
In other words, in this magical land, the keys to the kingdom have been
turned over to private electioneering firms. Mere voters are simply
expected to "trust" the system... and to moo contentedly as they move
through the corporate polling booths.
But WallyWorld is no fable. It's all too real, and the place where it's
happening is right here in the U.S. of A., where 30 states have already
turned over the people's balloting to a handful of these proprietary,
profit-seeking interests that reek with conflicts of interest.
Meet Wally O'Dell. He is CEO of Diebold, Inc., an ATM-maker that has
moved aggressively into what is now known as the electronic-voting industry. Diebold has rapidly become the second-largest purveyor of "touch-screen" voting machines. Already, over 33,000 of Wally's computers have been installed in polling places across the country. This is interesting for two big reasons: 1) Diebold keeps having "incidents" with its machinery,
leading to a growing concern that the company is losing, or even stealing, large numbers of our votes; and 2) Wally himself, a Republican, is rabidly partisan.
How partisan is O'Dell? In August, he was a guest at George W.'s
ranchette down in Crawford, Texas, where he and several other of Bush's fund-raising "Rangers" had a private tête-à-tête with the prez to discuss how each of them would raise $200,000 or more to keep him in the White House.
So excited was Wally to be part of Bush's team that he went home to Ohio
and promptly sent out letters to his wealthy associates declaring that
he is "committed to helping Ohio deliver its electoral votes to the
president next year." He then invited them to attend a $10,000-a-plate Bush fundraiser at Cotswold Manor, his mansion in Columbus.
One day after this solicitation hit the mail, Ohio's Republican
Secretary of State moved to qualify Wally's Diebold to sell its electronic-voting machines to the state's county officials.
You don't need Karl Malden's nose to smell this stinker. What we have
here is a politically biased corporation raising big bucks for the guy whose
votes the corporation will be counting. As Mark Twain said, "The
difference between fact and fiction is that fiction must be believable."
Unbelievably, the fact is that our country is rushing pell-mell to the
corporatization of our most basic democratic exercise: voting.
What wrong turn did our leaders take from America's straight and true
path of democracy to lead us into this fine fix? Initially, it looked like a
sensible idea. After the hanging-chad debacle of the 2000 presidential
election in Florida, spooked national, state, and local officials were
scrambling for a way to reform the voting system.
Out of the darkness stepped the most unlikely of caped crusaders:
corporations. Whispering the magic word "computers," corporate lobbyists
swarmed Capitol Hill with promises that high-tech was the path to true
reform, since electronic voting has no chads to hang and, in fact, no
paper of any kind to "clog" the machinery of democracy. Thus was born
HAVA--the Help America Vote Act. It requires states to replace
mechanical voting machines with touch-screen systems.
Besides Wally, here are some of the big players who are cashing in on
this government-fed boondoggle:
Election Systems and Software: The largest seller of computerized voting
systems in the country, ES&S counts Nebraska Senator Chuck Hagel (R) as
its former top exec. ES&S is a subsidiary of the McCarthy Group Inc., a
merchant-banking company based in Omaha. It's headed by Michael McCarthy, who (coincidentally) serves as Hagel's campaign treasurer. The senator continues to hold some $5 million worth of stock in the McCarthy
Group—yes, the company that counts Hagel's votes in each of his
Science Applications International Corporation: A major Pentagon
contractor, SAIC is now drawing big bucks as a technology consultant to
the corporations and governments behind the electronic-voting gold rush.
SAIC has had numerous legal problems with its performance on various
government jobs, including being charged with fabricating tests, civil
fraud, and making false claims—not exactly the reputation you'd want for
an entity with a big hand America's election process.
Speaking of Pentagon contractors, Lockheed Martin and Northrup Grumman are also in the game and have lobbied forcefully for HAVA, as did computer giant EDS and offshore financial schemer Accenture (the spawn of disgraced accounting giant Arthur Andersen, of Enron infamy.)
Accenture, which boasts that it is not a U.S. firm but a world
corporation headquartered in Bermuda, is one of two foreign outfits that have already gained a piece of America's electronic-voting pie. The other is Sequoia, owned by England's DeLaRue corporation and now the third-largest provider of computerized voting systems in the U.S.
These new election barons proclaim that computer technology is secure,
accurate, and certified by the authorities, so don't go worrying your
little heads about stuff that's none of your business anyway. We're
Do we look like we just fell off a turnip truck? First, computers
inevitably and routinely are filled with programming errors and flaws;
they seem to crash about as often as they run smoothly; and they are
frequently attacked by hackers, viruses, worms, and other malevolent
To quote Verifiedvoting.org, an organization of concerned computer
engineers and programmers: "With these paperless machines, there is
nothing that can stop a determined group from achieving large-scale
election theft. We see no reason why major problems will not occur,
including obviously messed-up elections [and] election of incorrect
Second, it is simply a lie that the corporate systems are subject to
rigorous oversight by state or county election officials. Authorities
are not allowed to look at the secret source code, much less examine it line
by line to find little glitches and switches that could upend a vote. A
number of credible technology labs have quit certifying voting machines
because outfits like Diebold and ES&S would not let them make a detailed
examination of the code.
BEV STARTS TO DIG
Bev Harris of Renton, WA, a former investigative reporter, got
interested in the issue when she read an article that questioned the corporate ownership of these voting machines. In January, she stumbled onto a mother lode of information—an open Diebold website that contained 40,000 files of source code and user manuals for its machines.
A Diebold vice president later said that posting this sensitive
information on a publicly accessible site was "a huge mistake." Yes, it
was, for Bev's discovery led to an expert analysis by four computer
scientists at Rice and Johns Hopkins Universities. Their study revealed
stunning flaws in the company's system:
**An individual with a minimum of computer knowledge could gain access
to a machine on election day, see the ongoing tally, and terminate further
voting on that machine.
**With a homemade smart card, one could cast multiple votes.
**With a regular phone line, one could tap into the machine and view the
The academic researchers are not alone in their criticism. In a separate
study, SAIC, the industry's own top consulting firm, found 328 different
security weaknesses—26 of them critical—In Diebold machines being sold
to the state of Maryland. SAIC reported that the system was "at high risk
of compromise" due to software flaws, leaving the voting system open to
hackers and fraud.
Flaws and fraud are not merely theoretical concerns. Though it has
received precious little mass-media coverage, these machines have
already been producing all sorts of "incidents," including these:
In 2002, the Peach State had six big upsets of Democrats by Republicans,
including in the U.S. Senate race, where incumbent Max Cleland had a big
lead in the polls but surprisingly was upended by the GOP's Saxby
The statewide vote was cast on 22,000 Diebold machines. Just before the
election, Diebold reportedly applied software "patches" to all of these
machines, purportedly to fix a problem with the computers crashing. The
patches were said to have been "certified" by election officials by
phone—with no actual examination of what the patches did.
Diebold honchos later said that they had investigated themselves
and—surprise!—found they had done nothing to mess with the system.
Bev, however, later discovered that Diebold had disposed of all of the
memory cards from these touch-screen machines. "You keep paper ballots
for 22 months," she notes, "and they're an awful lot bulkier than those
credit-card-size memory cards, but for some reason they felt compelled
to get rid of them all."
Running for the Democratic gubernatorial nomination last year, Reno
noted some unusual outcomes on election day. In South Florida precincts, where she was strong, the ES&S voting machines were inexplicably recording no votes in the governor's race. In some polling places where there were over 1,000 votes cast in other races, there were no votes for governor.
ES&S later sent "data extraction technicians," who "found" some votes.
Was this the actual count? Officials don't know; it was ES&S that
certified the count. Reno lost by less than 5,000 votes out of 1.3
**The San Luis Obispo "Oops"
It is illegal for anyone to count, or even see, vote totals before the
polls close. But on March 5th last year, at 3:31 p.m. on election day in
this California city, Diebold's machines in 57 precincts simultaneously
"called home" to corporate headquarters and reported the mid-afternoon
tally, which then went up on a Diebold website—in plenty of time for
interested partisans to mobilize their voters.
PROBLEMS ARE ROUNTINE
**In a Washington, Florida city runoff election, the winner beat his
opponent by only four votes, but 78 electronic ballots were blank.
Election officials refused to blame the machines, asserting that these
78 voters apparently came to the polls and then chose not to vote.
**In Middlesex County, New Jersey, a Sequoia machine was taken out of
service after 65 votes had been cast without registering a choice for
either of the candidates. Yet Sequoia blamed the voters, again
maintaining that people were coming to the polls and not voting.
**In Canal County, Texas, three Republican candidates experienced an
astonishing coincidence when the electronic voting machines declared
them victors in their respective races by the exact same margin of 18,181
**Then there's our friend Chuck Hagel, who first won a U.S. Senate Seat
in 1996 in a big upset, including his winning in majority black precincts
that had never voted Republican—all recorded on machines owned by ES&S, the company he headed before running for the Senate.
ATTACK THE MESSENGER
Ticked off that Bev had published their internal memos on the Internet,
[Diebold] had their lawyers send a cease-and-desist letter—which,
ironically, authenticated the memos and laid corporate claim to them,
asserting that they were copyrighted documents.
[Bev] recently revealed a most interesting secret meeting of a panicked
electronic-voting industry. It was an insider teleconference that Bev's
colleague, David Allen, learned about and boldly dialed into without
being questioned. The invitees included Diebold, ES&S, Sequoia, and other
Ironically, the meeting was led by Doug Lewis, head of the Election
Center. The Election Center is a private firm that also doubles as the
quasi-regulator of the industry, supposedly overseeing the integrity of
the machines while also coordinating affairs between the vendors and
state election officials, which makes Lewis the perfect embodiment of "voluntary regulation."
The purpose of the meeting was to create a PR front to counter the
rising public outcry against voting privatization. Allen reports that Lewis
asked the members to cough up $200,000 to fund a PR and congressional-lobbying campaign to refute any and all who question electronic voting. Allen's notes (see www.blackboxvoting.org) include Lewis saying, "Of course, we'll have to put some distance between the Election Center and this lobbying once it gets going."
WHAT TO DO?
Amazingly, there's a simple solution to all this: Require a
voter-verifiable paper trail of every vote in every election.
This is hardly techno-wizardry. Just as your ATM prints out a receipt of
your withdrawal, so can voting machines give us an auditable paper trail
of our votes.
Here are the steps: You vote on a touch-screen system; the machine
prints a paper ballot of how you voted; you verify on the touch screen that theballot is correct; you then turn in your print-out to election officials;
they put it directly in a lock-box, which they must hold for at least a
year. Thus the actual votes are there so the election can be physically
reconstituted in case there is a recount or charges of fraud.
One more thing: The computer code cannot be held as a corporate secret.
This is not the code for some video game, for heaven's sake, but for our
country's democratic electoral process! A copy of the code used for each
machine in each election must be given to public election officials for
their independent analysis before, during, and after every election.
The good news is that there is a bill that embodies all of the above: H.R.
2239, the Voter Confidence Act, sponsored by Rep. Rush Holt and some 40
other members of Congress. (Since this article was published, an
identical companion bill, S. 1980, has been introduced in the Senate, and the number of co-sponsors has risen to 102.) Also, the technology already exists to provide voter-verifiable audit trails, so there's no reason this can't
be done quickly.
Martin Luther King III and author Greg Palast have launched an online
petition drive to deluge Congress with demands that voting machines
leave a paper trail, as provided in Holt's bill. Sign up and zap it to
others—and let's yank our public elections out of the clutches of
So there you have it. The aforementioned petition is here:
However, while signing it is certainly helpful, it isn't enough. Your
members of Congress need to hear from you directly. To get their names
and contact information, just go to www.congress.org and enter your zip code.
Please call, write, or email your Senators and Representative as soon as
possible. You can send a pre-written generic letter here
([link]), but if you
write your own it will have much more impact. You don't have to be
dazzlingly eloquent—just express your concern and ask them to co-sponsor the Voter Confidence Act. It will take only a few minutes and be well worth the effort.
NOTE: When you do this, make sure to specify that the problems must be
fixed BEFORE THIS YEAR'S ELECTION. Amazingly, some lawmakers say we
should indeed make sure votes are counted properly—but not until 2006!
And remember, even if the faulty machines are still in place this
November, you DON'T have to trust them with your vote—just send in an
Please pass this on to as many people as possible—conservative, liberal,
Democrat, Republican, Green, Libertarian, independent, or whatever. Even
in these politically polarized times, the right to fair elections should
be something We The People can all agree on.
For more information, visit www.blackboxvoting.org,
or read "Broken Machine Politics" by Paul O'Donnell in the January 2004
issue of Wired magazine.
P.S. In case you were wondering, I am a concerned citizen from rural
North Carolina, and am not affiliated with any organization.
|18 Feb 2004 @ 10:52|
Dear MoveOn member,
MoveOn is now over two million people strong in the United States. That's a huge number: the organization we've built together is bigger than the Christian Coalition at its peak. To put it another way, one in every 146 Americans is now a MoveOn member. And we're still growing fast.
And what we're doing together is even more exciting. For decades, parts of our political system have been sold to the highest bidder, with corporate donors winning out over the public interest. But on Friday, we finished our $10 million Voter Fund grassroots fundraising campaign without a dime from corporations or special interests. In the end, over 170,000 people opened their checkbooks and contributed an average of about $60 to put ads on the air that challenge Bush and his corporate backers. The impact of this campaign shouldn't be underestimated: it clearly demonstrates that real people still matter in American politics. And the folks in Washington know it.
Political giving is almost always a quid-pro-quo business: corporate lobbyists trade money for policy, the wealthy trade money for access to politicians. MoveOn members aren't asking for anything but their democracy back, and that kind of generosity is pretty rare. When we hear about the families who saved up to make a $25 donation, or think of the thousands of folks who mailed in $5 checks, we know this is something amazing and new that we're a part of.
And money's only part of the equation: our phone calls and emails helped win a real victory last week. After CBS rejected our Voter Fund's Super Bowl ad, we learned that the White House was being allowed to air an advocacy ad about Medicare. We told you about it, and in just a few days over 50,000 MoveOn members called and emailed to complain. On Friday, CBS pulled the ad, stating that it had violated their policy. It's a big win, and a powerful blow to the Bush Administration's campaign to cover up its Medicare sellout.
This tidal wave of engagement and activism isn't exclusive to MoveOn, of course. Every leader of every organization we run into sees the same thing. Across the country, from labor unions like the SEIU to Greenpeace to the ACLU, people are standing up and getting active. President Bush told us he was a uniter, and he was right: he's uniting people across America to fight back for our country.
As this movement gains momentum and visibility, many of these organizations will inevitably become targets for Republican attacks. We've already seen some of the smear tactics the right will use. When their situation becomes even more dire, we know they'll strike hard at MoveOn and the groups we stand with –- a campaign of intimidation fueled by President Bush's $150 million war chest.
But this new democratic groundswell draws its strength from the hopes of millions of people, standing up and taking action for a better country and a better world. We simply refuse to let lobbyists, attack politics and fear-mongering destroy our democracy. And against the courage and conviction of real people, even Karl Rove and $150 million can't do much.
Thank you for your hope, your generosity, and your willingness to speak out. Together, we're taking our country back.
--Adam, Carrie, Eli, James, Joan, Laura, Noah, Peter, Wes, and Zack
The MoveOn.org Team
February 16th, 2004
|11 Feb 2004 @ 21:32|
There's a remote little village in the West Bank that decided to behave differently. A village whose residents decided not to lament and not to blow themselves up. They chose another way between violence and surrender. The residents of the village of Budrus, west of Ramallah and close to the Green Line, chose to wage a nonviolent struggle against the separation fence that is being built on its land. The whole village has pitched in - the Hamas and Fatah members, the old and the young, men and women, and for three months they have been going down by the hundreds to their olive groves every week, to demonstrate against the uprooting of their trees and the encircling of the residents.
If someone asks: Why peaceful? I tell him: I've tried all the ways and the peaceful way works best. The worst thing is to kill the innocent. That's the worst thing in the world. They kill day and night and say that we are terrorists. But we need all the world to be on our side. I'm against killing people. All people, Jews and Arabs. I'm not afraid or ashamed to say that. That's why I'm demonstrating peacefully against the fence."
Let this be the start of a Satyagraha movement in Palestine.... More >
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