Sexual Violence Against Men in War

Historically sexual violence has been used as a weapon of war, for as long as there have been wars on earth. Rape is used to instill terror, and humiliate people, to destroy not only individuals, but families, communities and society as well. The consequences of this organized crime, which is used as a weapon of war, are deeply felt even when the war is over.  I, who work with survivor of  sexual violence during the war,  I see  every day the pain that the survivors face not only because of what happened during the war, but also the stigma that they face today.

Twenty three (23) years have passed since the end of the war, and Arbeni (name changed) comes for the first time to the Kosovo Center for the Rehabilitation of Torture Survivors, for the first he reveals the painful experience of sexual violence he experienced in 1999, and the pain feels fresh as if the event had happened yesterday. It is very difficult for him to speak, but two drops of tears flow down his cheeks and he quickly tries to wipe them away, as if with this he could erase his entire painful experience, although it is impossible. The only thing that he constantly repeats is: “My life is destroyed, I used to be a teacher, and now I’m nobody”

The trauma experienced by sexual violence and the fear of stigmatization made Arbeni change his place of residence, lose his job, and isolate himself and suffer in silence.

Like Arbeni, many others continue to suffer in silence. In the Kosovar society, sexual violence continues to be silent and hidden. Sexual violence, among other things, is precisely imposing  silence, guilt and shame. The essence of sexual violence against men and boys is their humiliation and degradation.

Sexually abused men and boys live with tremendous stigma in our society, just like the women and girls who experienced this war crime. They live with the heavy burden of shame that they could not defend themselves from the humiliating act of rape, they feel discouraged and guilty, unable to access sources of help. Psychologically, the experience of sexual violence shakes the foundations of their identity as men and leads them to keep this suffering secret, embarrassing. But suppressing the pain does not undo it, rather it cuts it off from the possibility of treatment and healing.

Kosovo is working hard to fight the stigma of sexual violence during the war. As a psychotherapist, my colleagues and I , every day we are working hard to creating a perception of acceptance, encouraging survivors for accessing treatment and overcoming trauma. We all can do something to make a positive difference in the survivors’ lives.

Seville Izeti

War Survivor faces COVID

By: Selvi Izeti Çarkaxhiu – Psychologist, KRCT

Story from: ‘The diary of psychotherapy with survivors of sexual violence during the war in Kosovo.’

The survivors during the Pandemic – excerpt and summary from the psychotherapy sessions with one of the survivors of sexual violence during the war. The psychologist’s reflection of the work with the client during the period of COVID-19pandemic.

“I am a survivor!”

“I was merely 16 years old when they raped me during the war, but it took me 18 years to recover from the consequences. When the war ended, my friends continued their education, their lives, realized their dreams, while my own life got frozen in time, a part of me died, my dreams withered and I lived with my broken soul in a body that often felt as if it weren’t my own. After 18 years, with the help of the organization where I was given the opportunity to work on myself, on my pain and my crushing memories, to give meaning to what had happened, I gathered all of my strength bit by bit and began to return to life, within me a hope was reborn and I began to see things differently, I felt I was a survivor! I decided to let go of the bitter past and spread my wings towards the future, because it looked beautiful indeed. Precisely when I emerged from my spiritual isolation, I find myself today isolated within four walls by this damned virus. I feel like screaming at the top of my lungs and tell it: I am not afraid of you, I have overcome much more, even when I felt alone! I will survive you as well, because now I AM NO LONGER ALONE!

Selvije, Psychologist

In my 13 years of experience working with war trauma, I have heard stories that were indeed horrible, that break your heart, some of which were so devastating that the brain no longer understands and finds it difficult to accept that the human hand is capable of doing so much harm. We, who work with the survivors of sexual violence know these stories, it is us who listen to them attentively ever day while they talk about their pain, fear and traumas. We are the ones who receive difficult emotions in the psychotherapy room, and try to contain them, which helps the survivors feel understood and supported. 

By the end of a session we often feel deeply touched by the stories of the survivors, by their emotions and experiences. Even though in most cases we manage to separate their turmoil from our personal lives, it isn’t always easy. Sometimes I even allowed myself to shed tears in response to what I was hearing, because compassion doesn’t necessarily come from identification with the circumstances, but moreso from the connection, understanding and being with the survivors while they release the negative emotions that are associated with traumatic experiences. In our work, we console, calm and help people in using every resource available to them to cope with the trauma, even though these resources are often limited. But, stories such as HANA’s who despite the pain, finds the strength to cope with life and move on, further inspire and empower us to continue with our work. Hana, in the story she narrated during the online sessions, had decided to irrevocably pull herself out of the quicksand that would neither swallow her nor allow her to be free. From the quicksand of the trauma that kept her paralysed for all these years. Twenty years from the day when the clock stopped ticking for her, now it has resumed! She has stood up, has decided to live as she is ought to live, because she feels that she HAS SURVIVED THE TRAUMA!

Sexual Violence Against Men

This article is by Selvi Izeti, a traumatologist whom I met in Italy at an advanced Harvard training program. I visited Ms Izeti in Kosova and sat in on her trauma resolution groups. Ms Izeti, an Albanian was a refugee during the Serb attempt at Albanian genocide.

Andrea Steffens
Sexual violence against men and boys in Kosovo during the recent war is estimated to be about 20,000.

Most victims were women and girls. but there have also been reports of incidents with male victims of sexual violence. 

The actual number of rape victims will never be established, but the estimates range from several thousand  to tens of thousands and  only for period between August 1998 and August 1999 (Amnesty International. Time for EULEX to Prioritize War Crimes. 2012).
In general when we talk about sexual violence during the war,  it is the sexual violence against women as a weapon of war but does not place much emphasis  on men which also happened  as well.

Even  physicians and counselors are  not well trained to recognize the signs of rape in men, which makes men feel less understood and supported.

There is a lack of data on sexual violence in Kosovo against men but from counselors Like myself,  working with former war prisoners, it is reported that sexual violence occured while they were  held in arbitrary detention in Kosovo and Serbia. Sexual violence during the war against man happen  also in public facilities/hostages situation, displacement situation, and in their homes in the presence  of family members.

From experience in my clinical work ,male survivors are even more reluctant to talk about sexual violence than women because of the shame, guilt and stigma associated with male sexual violence.Shame and social stigma keep many survivors silent. For men, the idea of being a victim of sexual violence is very difficult to cope with. 

Men have grown up with the belief that they should be able to protect themselves and that they should be willing to risk their lives or serious injury to protect their pride and self-respect. These beliefs about “manhood” are deeply rooted in most survivors of sexual violence and can lead to intense feelings of guilt, shame, and disability.

It doesn’t matter if you are a man or a woman, sexual violence is a trauma. The trauma of sexual violence comes from losing control of your body due to fear of death or injury. 

Talking about sexual violence against men and boys helps break the stigma that, and hopefully, will result in more support for survivors.

We all can help survivors of sexual violence by being their voice, by being there TO HEAR them, to understand and  to help them. We cannot change their past but we certainly can change their future! 

Selvi Izeti, traumatologist
Pristina, Kosovo

The Complexity of Driving Home

Our names carved on the lunar landscape-Revisiting Home

March 2016: 

My ultramodern taxi, equipped with wifi and all other modern amenities, stops and the driver calmly tells me that this is the closest to the border that he can take me. I need to walk the rest of the distance to the checkpoint. He says he’s really sorry about that… 

 I take some deep breaths and encouraging myself  I grab the handle of the suitcase and push, hoping the wheels hold up.   They do.

 “This will be over soon. I can do it, I can.” 

 I struggle with the heavy suitcases, heavy because I packed a lot having no idea how long I’ll need to stay in Gaza since my mother is seriously ill and it is unpredictable how long it will take for the permit to be issued. 

My Family’s house completed in 1991

 Every time I mention the issue of the permit to friends they wonder why I need a permit to go home. I explain that I also need one to leave Gaza … they look a little perplexed. I share their confusion and try to find explanations about why this happens…  How can I explain that it is the consequence of a failed peace process which led to despair and closing off of borders and separating Gaza from the West Bank and placing strict borders between them and Israel…. The peace process which started in 1993, entailed dividing the ‘Occupied Territories’ which include the West Bank and Gaza Strip to 3 parts, Area A which was to be controlled by Palestinians, Area B which had mixed control between Palestinians and Israelis. And Area C which is to be controlled by Israelis. Gaza was declared Area A, so there are no Israelis inside the Strip but Israelis control the land borders and have full control of the sea and the sky…

Thus there is a curfew on Gaza, and entering it needs to be before 19:00. If you arrive later, you would be under the mercy of the border manager if he or she will allow you in. The options are either to stay over the night at the checkpoint or go back where you came from. I was told that they usually do not allow people to wait at the Gate. The Gate by the way is all surrounded with barbed wires and the building is a modern building with cameras all over…So after dealing with legal complexities with the border guard we are able to enter Gaza.  

  While we wait, I remember in the late 1970s and early 1980s, travels from our home in Gaza to Jerusalem without anybody stopping us. At the time, Israeli forces controlled the whole area called the West Bank and Gaza Strip and there was no need for borders to separate the Gaza Strip or the West Bank from Israel.

Those days feel so distant like a 1940’s black and white movie or from another life I have had. Sometimes, I feel as though I am different people going through all these changes: when I travel in Europe, nobody almost stops me or even looks at my passport but when I cross the borders to this area (Palestine/Israel) my self-concept changes. I feel as if I am accused before being judged. I am guilty of some horrible act (which I am not sure what it is) and I need to prove my innocence all the time. I do feel like I am just an entity with no face, past or character and that I need to go through the motions of what I am asked to provide to show that I do not cross the line of obedience. 

My mother on bombed house 2014

On the way to my current home, we pass by what remained of our old house which was bombed in the recent war on Gaza.  By the way, that was the third time our house was bombed by Israeli forces. One of the reasons for its continuous targeting is its location. It is located near the Eastern border separating the Gaza Strip from Israel. It is a farmland and in the past we had animals like horses, goats, cows and chicken living there. This house was the dream house of my parents since they returned to Gaza from Kuwait where my father was offered employment in the 1960s. Since returning to Gaza, things were quite tough on the work front and my father tried several projects among which was agriculture which he and my mother established on this farmland. So they were waiting for the opportunity to have some savings to start building the house. They eventually did start it in the 1980s but it took them 10 years to finish it (having four daughters and living in the Gaza Strip does not provide the best opportunities to build a new house).

The house was also a dream house because it was built on the land that my father inherited from his father. It was surrounded by some residential areas and orange orchards which is what Gaza was known for. It was close to the Eastern borders with Israel and the borders have usually farmland for security reasons. So standing at the second floor of our house our eyes only saw green farm land which was such a contrast to the Western side of the house, which overlooked Gaza, one of the most populated areas in the world

These memories had no relation with what I am witnessing throughout my ride, memories of my wedding, of celebrating my mother’s election for the parliament, my father’s mayor ship, his illness, all of these memories are only kept in our souls. They do not belong to any physical entity. What I saw, was rubble, where the iron blades of the house’s foundation as if they decided to change their direction and dive back into the ground. Small pieces of window glass, pieces of door-wood, a torn photo, a dead flower were all what I saw. In my mind carved is my mother’s photo sitting on the rubble and her eyes dazing off the horizon. What was she thinking? All is gone? Where to start now? Where are our memories? I wonder….   

But then I remember times when we had fun and more joyful memories float in my mind. I remember as a child playing under and climbing up the Sycamore tree, with its far reaching branches full of green year long (this tree survives with little water and was considered scared by the Ancient Egyptians).  That was before building the house, however there was another building which consisted of two rooms and they were what we called my grandfather’s office because he used it to keep track of the farm’s matters and expenses. The office had his desk and his copybooks. My father used this office when we came back from Kuwait. He would sit in that office and discuss farm matters with the farm keeper. The family of the farm keeper had been living there for decades. They even had their eldest boy called Aown, my father’s name, to show how close they were to us. They were from a village close to the town of Al Magdal or Askalan (now it is called Ashqelon because it was taken by Israel in 1948 and is now inside Israel). My grandfather offered them protection when they fled their town and they were grateful to him and his family ever after.

Through the same road, I also remember sitting in my mother’s car, the silver Renault with its greyish velvety seats… warmly squeezed in the back with my three sisters, my youngest sister was still very small so we could fit in…sometimes even sliding lower in the car to enjoy our retreat.  We (the four sisters) would be in the back seat with our nanny in the front who would also lean back and talk to us so as not to feel the rigid separation of the front and back seats of the car, a thing which I always wondered why designers could not find a more sociable design to facilitate mingling in the car … 

The windows were open and we could smell the orange orchards and the sea breeze…. I can almost hear us laughing and singing. …we would give ourselves to the song to forget all our surroundings … ‘On the lunar landscape I will write our names’ a verse which I cannot forget because it was one of my mother’s and our favorite songs. It was sung by a Syrian singer who became famous after moving to Egypt (where all the great composers lived back then), Faiyza Ahmad. Another verse which always reminds me of those rides and whenever I hear it I relive those moments is, ‘my beautiful homeland’, by the Egyptian-Italian-French singer Dalida…Only our mother knew our destination so we completely left it up to her to get us home… 

In current time, things have been completely altered, my mother is bedridden, our old house is gone, more complex checking procedures are set, and still,  my childhood memories are very alive and go with me ….where can I mark the border between, past vs present, life vs. death, joy vs. sadness, war vs. resistance, construction vs. deconstruction, inside vs. outside, safety vs. threat the list of comparisons goes on… my identity vs. others, my memories vs. current moment… a continuous process of negotiation and renegotiation of myself and borders around me, growing heavier, deeper, layer after layer like memories are thick with sadness, confusion and never knowing the outcome, never fully trusting enough to feel normal, always on edge …. Where will take this trip take me?

Salma A. Shawa

The Shooting of Freedom in Kosova

Uran’s Story:

For twenty years, the Albanian people living in Kosovo were treated like second-class citizens by the Serbian population. In an effort to force Albanians to leave Kosovo, there were tight restrictions on what the Albanian population could and could not do in their  country: their children weren’t allowed to attend formal schools, their sick weren’t allowed to seek medical care from hospitals, activities of their cultural organizations were restricted, and unemployment was high. But instead of fleeing their country, Kosovar Albanians were resilient and learned to adapt. Their determination and refusal to give up their country led to war.

The story of our tragedy began in 1998.  I was eight years old, the youngest of five children in my family.

I heard the news on the radio and television that the invaders’  had intensified persecution against the Kosovar civilian population, against the activities and goals of the Albanian people for freedom and every man who would dare to think about freedom. For one-hundred years, the Serbs had been trying to wipe out  Albanian culture and identity, using force,  killing and torturing. The beatings, harassment, and persecution continued across the country. The enemy knew when the  revolt was planned, and used kidnappings, beatings, shooting, and torture to prevent it. My grandfather was tortured by being held in water that was -20°C. Day by day the rope came and grew tighter.

It started on an ordinary day in the spring, as the neighborhood children were playing in my backyard – games like volleyball, football, sticks and balls, and even mud. Suddenly, we heard a barrage of bullets which were more intense than usual — this time not stopping accompanied by caliber artillery. Our game stopped, and while all the others scattered to their houses, I was completely shocked and stood motionless while following the story, another version that had just begun. Then I heard in the streets, the rattling of cannons and tanks, but also the sweet response of rifles. Were these the shots of Freedom Fighters  signaling the open resistance of my Albanian people in Kosovo?

Soon the roads were cleared and the village was silent. We saw the smoke coming out of houses that had been burned. Sixteen Albanian warriors were murdered by the enemy that day but they succeeded in their mission – protecting the civilians. Although they gave their lives for us, they will always be with us – the living – in our hearts. Tears came and did not stop, our hearts split in two. We heard the moaning of the martyrs who were dying among others who’d been killed. The land smelled like smoke flames and flesh coming from burning villages.

The war had begun. With it, my parents’ worry.

We were 5 children between the ages of 8-15 years of age.   I was the youngest  Not much later, the time of moving out of the house came. It was the worst moment of my life, indescribable feelings of fear, pain and longing. Pain from having to leave and longing that we would not have to.  We left our house, the garden, and everything we had. Spring had stopped for us. Towers collapsed, meadows burned. And every inch of ground roared from the bombing offensive. The occupation had been taken against us just because we were Albanians, just because we spoke the most beautiful language in the World, and just because we dared ask for FREEDOM.

We left by a long mountain road, and everywhere heard gunfire contrasted with weeping erupting through the silence of the night. The mountains resounded with gunfire from the enemy punctuating the determination of the invaders, and with that,  the screams and crying of civilians trying to escape. There was much sadness. And even more chilling was the fact that we did not have even the slightest idea about where we were heading, or what awaited us on the other side of the hill that day. We thought this might be the end for us, as it was for many others.

We snuggled deep in the mountains to avoid the bullets pouring from wherever you looked. The sound never ceased, the thirst for blood was great that day.  Anyone who had fallen along the way was killed. The evening came with a Grace-like  silence reigning everywhere. The babies and young children were wrapped up by their mothers, in an effort to prevent them from seeing the horror of our plight and keeping them warm.. But they were experiencing the horror with us. We were without food, water, and shelter. We, heard only a few babies, softly weeping. We had travelled past the long-beautiful oaks of our motherland, now on our fifth day in a row walking under the open sky. We remained anxious about what awaited us this time. We had not eaten for 3 days.

After that, the situation calmed down somehow, but still we continued our journey to the capital (Pristina) hoping that there we would find peace. We were exhausted from walking twenty kilometers each day, and were dejected because we had been exiled. With the help of several friends, we found a temporary residence where we spent the next 6 months. In the moment we thought things are getting better everything just gone worse. At the meantime we were happy for the roof that we found there, but it was winter, a hard cold winter, we didn’t have woods for the fire to get ourselves heat , we didn’t have enough food to feed ourselves. Even as a child I remember everything, on returning back from school  I used to stop to the markets to get papers and carton to get warmed at least before bad time. The next six months gone like this, but everything stopped in a morning when Serbian barbarians came to get us out even from there. They used brutal force on everyone by trying to show us their “force” that they poses by holding their weapons, they emptied the whole capital that day and brought us to the train station, to transport us with freight train to the border of Macedonia. At the border we waited for ten long days in an open sky, without roof, without food without anything at all. For six days rain did not stop and everyone get wet for the next days, it was terrible time and only on the eleven day we could pass away to the next station…

We then spent another 3 months with a wonderful Albanian family in the neighboring state of Macedonia. They all were kind and lovely and they have done everything to help us, to make us feel like home. They provided a home for us, good food to eat and a pure love on welcoming us.  After the military intervention of NATO, the head of this Albanian family went back to his home where he found everything burned to the ground and houses destroyed. But love of country was greater than the booming barbarian army and from that day he continued life during wartime broken now in peace…!

Barbarians had beaten and mistreated our people, emptying every corner of the country, evicting Albanians from Kosovo as part of the ethnic cleansing of Albanians. From their home country of Kosovo to the neighboring state of Macedonia and Albania. But all that sacrifice wasn’t for nothing, all that bloodshed brought us the FREEDOM. Now we could smell freely in peace. It was what we wanted for centuries, what we were fighting for. Just to free our homelands.

War: the high cost of toxic soil on health — particularly the vulnerable, children, the grandparents, and vulnerable adults

Hello, Andrea here.  I asked Patti Gora Mcraven to write this when the abstraction of war toxins and its impact on health was brought home in my knowing and loving people who were impacted by this:  especially a beautiful little Kosovar  girl, Klara, whose health has been fragile.  Why?

We believe, with good reason, that the toxins of war that have poisoned soil in which food is grown is the ground out of which ill health for children grows.

Patti is an environmentalist, Activist and Inspiration to all of us to not just KNOW of these   conditions but DO something.  She told me that this piece was particularly difficult for her to write. She knows a great deal about the toxins of war but for this piece she dove even deeper into the research which she said is even worse than she imagined.

Those of  us who find this information difficult to deal with, will find strength  as they find their voices matter and they can raise them — the Women’s March has given us this. The people impacted by these toxic soils are  real people that you, the reader will meet on the pages of this website.  And you will see that in so many countries around the world, war isn’t over when its over, it continues in the bodies of the children as they  begin showing signs of ill health clearly related to the toxins of war.

Below is Patti’s piece.  I am so grateful she is willing to stay with it as it gets difficult for her.  How little do I think of the responses our courageous reporters of painful events or conditions who are impacted by what they learn, see and know.


Once upon a time, I was a forestry major. I didn’t last long once I realized that this course of study meant I’d be hired to figure out board feet and cut down the trees I loved so deeply. I didn’t want to do that, so I had to switch to something based on natural resources, something less mercenary and more focused on the web of relationships so crucial to this beautiful planet.

After a few years of wandering I became a mother myself. My beloved trees still “schooled” me; I remember being very pregnant and encountering my apple tree, heavy with fruit, much like me. I had a moment of understanding how that particular tree felt in a way I never had before. The difference was motherhood, and being responsible for another life inside of me. My apple tree and I understood each other.

I would return to use my knowledge of ecology and natural resources as my son was born with some pretty serious issues. He had severe asthma and allergies to many foods. He gasped for air a lot. It was frightening. Of course, as any mother would, I began to search for answers and for help.

I learned that the local practice of burning large fields after harvest were the source of the repeated bouts of pneumonia and sinus infections and asthma that my son had. I naturally did my best to bring science and understanding to the situation, examining why the practice of burning existed and why it was so pervasive. The short story is that my husband and I along with other parents of disabled kids ended up challenging the way our state conducted such burns. We actually made a federal case out of it. That phrase is used a lot to suggest wild exaggeration on the part of one party, but when a healthy 21 year old in my town died from this horrible air pollution, we knew we had to act.  So we sued on behalf of our sick children and after a long and protracted battle, we won and changed the way burns were conducted so that more people wouldn’t die. You would think that would be easy, but it wasn’t. It cost us all our free time, our money, and pretty much our sanity. And at least 3 good people who worked with us died of unusual cancers, including my own husband. So this is not something I joke about.

As I studied what was in the smoke (things like particulate matter, polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, and toxics) I began to notice something disturbing. There were thousands of mothers and fathers just like us who were fighting similar battles all over this country, and indeed, all over the world. Each one of us had to do singular battle with billion dollar industries who were invested in having it their way.

There was the problem of coal-ash spilling and poisoning communities and fecal contamination from CAFO’s which are large animal farms (see And the Waters Turned to Blood by Rodney Barker);  toxic waste used as “fertilizer” to be used on crops even as those crops uptake the arsenic and cadmium contained in that “fertilizer”  (see Fateful Harvest: The True Story of a Small Town, a Global Industry, and a Toxic Secret by Duff Wilson); the fracking problem of contaminated water and toxic emissions; just to name a few here in this country. We haven’t even covered Superfund sites like Love Canal or the Silver Valley in Idaho or the lead poisoning in the water in Flint and other communities, or the poisoning of entire communities like Libby, Montana by the WR Grace corporation from asbestos.

With the recent wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, I learned that 18 countries use DU manufactured bombs made with depleted uranium. This is uranium that has been used in the nuclear enrichment process, but has been “recycled” to make armor-piercing bombs. The problem is that these bombs aerosolize the uranium and contaminate the soil and the air around impact. There have been several compelling papers written to attempt to document the harm being done to populations that remain after the bombing.  Rising levels of thyroid cancer have been documented in Serbia, as well as increased in other cancers.

The changing nature of war means that no longer are refugees able to return home safely; we are now creating an entirely new and deadly situation by poisoning the environment in places where war is waged. The article I was researching for this piece in Scientific American, also has a buffet of tragedies to choose from: Agent Orange contamination is more extensive than first thought and chemical weapons in Syria, bioterror (yes, that’s a word now) and we don’t even know what’s going on in the secret programs that are most assuredly being developed. (

Although there are principles of conflict which state that those who use such weapons are responsible for clean up and for avoiding war crimes, we can see that clean up rarely happens and that local populations bear the cost when they have already been traumatized by war and dislocation.

It seems to me that the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree. We must learn that these fairly recent mechanisms of war are only harming the earth and all its inhabitants and creating massive displacements of refugees who can no longer safely return home. According to the United Nations, the number of refugees in the world has reached the highest number ever recorded.

“After an increase of five million last year, the number of people displaced by conflict – refugees, asylum seekers or those displaced internally – was at an estimated 65.3 million by the end of 2015.

It is the equivalent of one in every 113 people on the planet, according to the UN Refugee Agency, and if considered a nation would make up the 21st largest in the world.”  (

There is no home to return to if the water is poisoned, the earth can’t grow food safe to eat and the very air can be radioactive or filled with toxic pollution.

Absent from the discussions of what to do about refugee populations is remediation of the land, water and air in war-torn countries as well as rebuilding the infrastructure.

I wish I had some decent answers. I wish I could bring a solution to this issue of new warfare poisoning the very earth we depend upon for sustenance, much like my beloved apple tree gave me fruit each year. Perhaps we need a new set of rules for war which include the cost of remediation of soil, water and air upon the end of any given campaign.

We simply must re-think conflict. It is no longer possible to poison, with impunity, the very ground being fought upon. We are all interconnected.

It seems to me that there are several core fallacies at the heart of our current paradigm:

  1. Everything has a price
  2. Anything that has a price can be extracted, traded or sold
  3. We are entranced by some sort of competition to see who gets the “most” because we have a false notion that having the “most” guarantees our safety somehow.

As I’ve watched repeated fights attempting to hold polluters accountable, I’ve learned that they wield immense power in the current paradigm. That is to say, they have accumulated enormous stores of money, power and influence to game the system.

Environmental activists have been able to hold some of these groups accountable by publicly shaming them and highlighting the lack of basic human decency in their polluting ways.

But we seem to be numbing out. After all, how many outrages can spur us to action anymore? We are weary of bad news and need soothing. We are all traumatized by the state of affairs of the planet’s health and vitality. There are indeed things that money can’t buy. This includes the longing for human connection and meaning, as well as beauty. I am buoyed by the movements to buy less, live smaller and share more. I believe there is a change of spirit and heart coming to be born. I think that human connection, compassion and interaction are the antidotes to the dark forces that have played us like chess pieces. I don’t have all the answers as to how, but I do know that a small number of dedicated folks getting together for common cause can create miracles.

Depleted uranium effects:

In Serbia: “Depleted Uranium used by NATO during bombing of Serbia takes its toll” by InSerbia with agencies, March 29, 2016

Accessed on 1-16-17 at:

BELGRADE – The use of depleted uranium during NATO bombing of Serbia has caused long-term damage to Serbia and the Serbian people. Because every year we have an increase in the number of cancer cases by 25 percent over the previous year. Figures in the case of patients in Kosovska Mitrovica support this fact, as in 2011 here were registered 185 of them, the following year, 225 and in 2013 – 250. Therefore, the gloomy forecasts, imposed back in 2002, that the use of depleted uranium during the aggression of Western military alliance against FRY will cause an epidemic of malignant diseases, turned out to be accurate, said dr. Nebojsa Srbljak for Serbian daily “Vecernje Novosti”.

Dr Srbljak, a cardiologist at the ZTC in Kosovska Mitrovica and founder of the NGO “Angel of Mercy” which deals with data on the number of patients with malignancy in Kosovo, explained for the daily that “those who used the depleted uranium had to know what consequences it causes”. He said that the study of his organization, which cover the period of two years before and two years after the bombing, clearly shows that the number of patients with malignant diseases is caused by radioactivity, and not stress and other bad life habits.

“Let us remember the example of Italy which has revealed that their soldiers, who stayed in Kosovo, were irradiated and that the increased number of hematological diseases is a direct consequence of the use of depleted uranium ammunition,” said dr. Srbljak. “Italian KFOR soldiers were deployed where the most of the ammunition with depleted uranium was used, in Pec, Djakovica, in Kosare. Their families, as far as I know, have received compensation.”

Dr. Srbljak urges the authorities that our country formally request compensation, not only for material damage but also because of the increase in the number of patients with malignant diseases. The cardiologist claims that someone was trying to minimize the information he and his team published back in 2002 that the number of patients with malignant diseases was increased by almost 200 percent compared to the period before the bombing.

“It became clear that we are right when our neighbors Albanians started to go to Belgrade for a treatment. Because, and that is obvious, they have confidence in the expertise of Serbian doctors. I therefore think that our proposal, to open a branch of Oncology Institute in Belgrade here in (Kosovska) Mitrovica could finally be realized.”

  1. Abstract viewed on 1-16-17 at:

Arh Hig Rada Toksikol. 2014 Jun;65(2):189-97. doi: 10.2478/10004-1254-65-2014-2427.

Environmental radioactivity in southern Serbia at locations where depleted uranium was used.

Sarap NB, Janković MM, Todorović DJ, Nikolić JD, Kovačević MS.


In the 1999 bombing of the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia, NATO forces used ammunition containing depleted uranium. The cleaning of depleted uranium that followed was performed in southern Serbia by the Vinča Institute of Nuclear Sciences between 2002 and 2007 at the locations of Pljačkovica, Borovac, Bratoselce, and Reljan. This paper presents detailed results of radioactivity monitoring four years after cleaning (2011), which included the determination of gamma emitters in soil, water, and plant samples, as well as gross alpha and beta activities in water samples. The gamma spectrometry results showed the presence of natural radionuclides 226Ra, 232Th, 40K, 235U, 238U, and the produced radionuclide 137Cs (from the Chernobyl accident). In order to evaluate the radiological hazard from soil, the radium equivalent activity, the gamma dose rate, the external hazard index, and the annual effective dose were calculated. Considering that a significant number of people inhabit the studied locations, the periodical monitoring of radionuclide content is vital.

  1. Accessed on 1-16-17

J Environ Radioact. 2003;64(2-3):121-31.

Isotopic composition and origin of uranium and plutonium in selected soil samples collected in Kosovo.

Danesi PR1, Bleise A, Burkart W, Cabianca T, Campbell MJ, Makarewicz M, Moreno J, Tuniz C, Hotchkis M.

Author information


Soil samples collected from locations in Kosovo where depleted uranium (DU) ammunition was expended during the 1999 Balkan conflict were analysed for uranium and plutonium isotopes content (234U, 235U, 236U, 238U, 238Pu, (239 + 240)Pu). The analyses were conducted using gamma spectrometry (235U, 238U), alpha spectrometry (238Pu, (239 + 240)Pu), inductively coupled plasma-mass spectrometry (ICP-MS) (234U, 235U, 236U, 238U) and accelerator mass spectrometry (AMS) (236U)). The results indicated that whenever the U concentration exceeded the normal environmental values (approximately 2 to 3 mg/kg) the increase was due to DU contamination. 236U was also present in the released DU at a constant ratio of 236U (mg/kg)/238U (mg/kg) = 2.6 x 10(-5), indicating that the DU used in the ammunition was from a batch that had been irradiated and then reprocessed. The plutonium concentration in the soil (undisturbed) was about 1 Bq/kg and, on the basis of the measured 238Pu/(239 + 240)Pu, could be entirely attributed to the fallout of the nuclear weapon tests of the 1960s (no appreciable contribution from DU).

Accessed 1-16-17

Croat Med J. 2003 Oct;44(5):520-32.

Undiagnosed illnesses and radioactive warfare.

Duraković A1.

Author information 

1Uranium Medical Research Center, 3430 Connecticut Avenue/11854, Washington, DC 20008, USA.


The internal contamination with depleted uranium (DU) isotopes was detected in British, Canadian, and United States Gulf War veterans as late as nine years after inhalational exposure to radioactive dust in the Persian Gulf War I. DU isotopes were also identified in a Canadian veteran’s autopsy samples of lung, liver, kidney, and bone. In soil samples from Kosovo, hundreds of particles, mostly less than 5 microm in size, were found in milligram quantities. Gulf War I in 1991 resulted in 350 metric tons of DU deposited in the environment and 3-6 million grams of DU aerosol released into the atmosphere. Its legacy, Gulf War disease, is a complex, progressive, incapacitating multiorgan system disorder. The symptoms include incapacitating fatigue, musculoskeletel and joint pains, headaches, neuropsychiatric disorders, affect changes, confusion, visual problems, changes of gait, loss of memory, lymphadenopathies, respiratory impairment, impotence, and urinary tract morphological and functional alterations. Current understanding of its etiology seems far from being adequate. After the Afghanistan Operation Anaconda (2002), our team studied the population of Jalalabad, Spin Gar, Tora Bora, and Kabul areas, and identified civilians with the symptoms similar to those of Gulf War syndrome. Twenty-four-hour urine samples from 8 symptomatic subjects were collected by the following criteria: 1) the onset of symptoms relative to the bombing raids; 2) physical presence in the area of the bombing; and 3) clinical manifestations. Control subjects were selected among the sympotom-free residents in non-targeted areas. All samples were analyzed for the concentration and ratio of four uranium isotopes, (234)U, (235)U, (236)U and (238)U, by using a multicollector, inductively coupled plasma ionization mass spectrometry. The first results from the Jalalabad province revealed urinary excretion of total uranium in all subjects significantly exceeding the values in the nonexposed population. The analysis of the isotopic ratios identified non-depleted uranium. Studies of specimens collected in 2002 revealed uranium concentrations up to 200 times higher in the districts of Tora Bora, Yaka Toot, Lal Mal, Makam Khan Farm, Arda Farm, Bibi Mahro, Poli Cherki, and the Kabul airport than in the control population. Uranium levels in the soil samples from the bombsites show values two to three times higher than worldwide concentration levels of 2 to 3 mg/kg and significantly higher concentrations in water than the World Health Organization maximum permissible levels. This growing body of evidence undoubtedly puts the problem of prevention and solution of the DU contamination high on the priority list.

Accessed 1-16-17

On depleted uranium: gulf war and Balkan syndrome.

Duraković A1.

Author information


The complex clinical symptomatology of chronic illnesses, commonly described as Gulf War Syndrome, remains a poorly understood disease entity with diversified theories of its etiology and pathogenesis. Several causative factors have been postulated, with a particular emphasis on low level chemical warfare agents, oil fires, multiple vaccines, desert sand (Al-Eskan disease), botulism, Aspergillus flavus, Mycoplasma, aflatoxins, and others, contributing to the broad scope of clinical manifestations. Among several hundred thousand veterans deployed in the Operation Desert Storm, 15-20% have reported sick and about 25,000 died. Depleted uranium (DU), a low-level radioactive waste product of the enrichment of natural uranium with U-235 for the reactor fuel or nuclear weapons, has been considered a possible causative agent in the genesis of Gulf War Syndrome. It was used in the Gulf and Balkan wars as an armor-penetrating ammunition. In the operation Desert Storm, over 350 metric tons of DU was used, with an estimate of 3-6 million grams released in the atmosphere. Internal contamination with inhaled DU has been demonstrated by the elevated excretion of uranium isotopes in the urine of the exposed veterans 10 years after the Gulf war and causes concern because of its chemical and radiological toxicity and mutagenic and carcinogenic properties. Polarized views of different interest groups maintain an area of sustained controversy more in the environment of the public media than in the scientific community, partly for the reason of being less than sufficiently addressed by a meaningful objective interdisciplinary research.

Accessed 1-16-17

J Expo Sci Environ Epidemiol. 2008 Jan;18(1):95-108. Epub 2007 Feb 14.

Gulf war depleted uranium risks.

Marshall AC1.

Author information 

1Consultant for Sandia National Laboratories, Albuquerque, New Mexico 87047, USA.


US and British forces used depleted uranium (DU) in armor-piercing rounds to disable enemy tanks during the Gulf and Balkan Wars. Uranium particulate is generated by DU shell impact and particulate entrained in air may be inhaled or ingested by troops and nearby civilian populations. As uranium is slightly radioactive and chemically toxic, a number of critics have asserted that DU exposure has resulted in a variety of adverse health effects for exposed veterans and nearby civilian populations. The study described in this paper used mathematical modeling to estimate health risks from exposure to DU during the 1991 Gulf War for both US troops and nearby Iraqi civilians. The analysis found that the risks of DU-induced leukemia or birth defects are far too small to result in an observable increase in these health effects among exposed veterans or Iraqi civilians. The analysis indicated that only a few ( approximately 5) US veterans in vehicles accidentally targeted by US tanks received significant exposure levels, resulting in about a 1.4% lifetime risk of DU radiation-induced fatal cancer (compared with about a 24% risk of a fatal cancer from all other causes). These veterans may have also experienced temporary kidney damage. Iraqi children playing for 500 h in DU-destroyed vehicles are predicted to incur a cancer risk of about 0.4%. In vitro and animal tests suggest the possibility of chemically induced health effects from DU internalization, such as immune system impairment. Further study is needed to determine the applicability of these findings for Gulf War exposure to DU. Veterans and civilians who did not occupy DU-contaminated vehicles are unlikely to have internalized quantities of DU significantly in excess of normal internalization of natural uranium from the environment.

Accessed 1-16-17 at

Hippokratia. 2016 Jan-Mar;20(1):9-23.

Rising incidence of thyroid cancer in Serbia.

Slijepcevic N1, Zivaljevic V2, Paunovic I2, Diklic A2, Zivkovic P3, Miljus D3, Grgurevic A4, Sipetic S4.

Author information 

1Centre for Endocrine surgery, Clinical Centre of Serbia, Belgrade, Serbia.

2Centre for Endocrine surgery, Clinical Centre of Serbia, Belgrade, Serbia; School of Medicine, University of Belgrade, Belgrade, Serbia.

3Institute of Public Health of Serbia, Belgrade, Serbia.

4Institute of Epidemiology, School of Medicine, University of Belgrade, Belgrade, Serbia; School of Medicine, University of Belgrade, Belgrade, Serbia.



In the past decade, the incidence of thyroid cancer (TC) has shown a stable increase, for both sexes, in many parts of the world at a rate faster than for any other type of malignancy. The aim of our study was to analyze and report changes in TC incidence in Serbia, as well as to evaluate potential reasons for these changes. So far, the incidence of TC in Serbia has not been reported.


This is a retrospective descriptive epidemiological study of TC data from the Cancer Register for Serbia for a ten year period, from 1999 to 2008. Crude rates (CR), age-specific rates (ASR), age-adjusted rates (AAR), linear trends and average annual percentage changes (AAPC) were calculated and analyzed.


TC incidence increased substantially for both genders with the highest increase in 2007 for the age group 50-59 (females 14.2, males 10.3). TC was three times more common in females (CR 4.7:1.5). The AAR for females ranged 1.9-4.8 (3.3, 95% CI 2.6-4.0), for males 1.0-2.6 (1.0, 95% CI 0.8-1.2) and for both sexes combined 1.4-3.2 (2.2, 95% CI 1.7-2.6). The incidence trend for males showed an increase (y =0.05x + 0.70, p =0.058). It was highly statistically significant for females (y =0.31x + 1.61, p <0.001) and both genders combined (y =0.18x + 1.18, p <0.001). AAPC was highest for ages 20-29 and 30-39, for females (+25.2%) and males (+17.3%), respectively.


We found a substantial increase in TC incidence in Serbia for both genders. The highest increase in TC incidence was found in females aged 20 to 29 years while the highest incidence was found in the age group 50 to 59.


Serbia; Thyroid cancer; age-adjusted rates; age-specific rates; average annual percentage changes; crude rates; incidence

Accessed 1-16-17

J Environ Radioact. 2003;64(2-3):93-112.

Properties, use and health effects of depleted uranium (DU): a general overview.

Bleise A1, Danesi PR, Burkart W.

Author information 

1International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), Department of Nuclear Science and Applications, Wagramer Strasse 5, P.O. Box 100, A-1400 Vienna, Austria.


Depleted uranium (DU), a waste product of uranium enrichment, has several civilian and military applications. It was used as armor-piercing ammunition in international military conflicts and was claimed to contribute to health problems, known as the Gulf War Syndrome and recently as the Balkan Syndrome. This led to renewed efforts to assess the environmental consequences and the health impact of the use of DU. The radiological and chemical properties of DU can be compared to those of natural uranium, which is ubiquitously present in soil at a typical concentration of 3 mg/kg. Natural uranium has the same chemotoxicity, but its radio-toxicity is 60% higher. Due to the low specific radioactivity and the dominance of alpha-radiation no acute risk is attributed to external exposure to DU. The major risk is DU dust, generated when DU ammunition hits hard targets. Depending on aerosol speciation, inhalation may lead to a protracted exposure of the lung and other organs. After deposition on the ground, re-suspension can take place if the DU containing particle size is sufficiently small. However, transfer to drinking water or locally produced food has little potential to lead to significant exposures to DU. Since poor solubility of uranium compounds and lack of information on speciation precludes the use of radio-ecological models for exposure assessment, bio-monitoring has to be used for assessing exposed persons. Urine, feces, hair and nails record recent exposures to DU. With the exception of crews of military vehicles having been hit by DU penetrators, no body burdens above the range of values for natural uranium have been found. Therefore, observable health effects are not expected and residual cancer risk estimates have to be based on theoretical considerations. They appear to be very minor for all post-conflict situations, i.e. a fraction of those expected from natural radiation.

Accessed 1-16-17

environ Int. 2004 Mar;30(1):123-34.

Environmental and health consequences of depleted uranium use in the 1991 Gulf War.

Bem H1, Bou-Rabee F.

Author information

1Institute of Applied Radiation, Technical University of Lodz, ul. Zwirki 36, 90-924, Lodz, Poland.


Depleted uranium (DU) is a by-product of the 235U radionuclide enrichment processes for nuclear reactors or nuclear weapons. DU in the metallic form has high density and hardness as well as pyrophoric properties, which makes it superior to the classical tungsten armour-piercing munitions. Military use of DU has been recently a subject of considerable concern, not only to radioecologists but also public opinion in terms of possible health hazards arising from its radioactivity and chemical toxicity. In this review, the results of uranium content measurements in different environmental samples performed by authors in Kuwait after Gulf War are presented with discussion concerning possible environmental and health effects for the local population. It was found that uranium concentration in the surface soil samples ranged from 0.3 to 2.5 microg g(-1) with an average value of 1.1 microg g(-1), much lower than world average value of 2.8 microg g(-1). The solid fallout samples showed similar concentrations varied from 0.3 to 1.7 microg g(-1) (average 1.47 microg g(-1)). Only the average concentration of U in solid particulate matter in surface air equal to 0.24 ng g(-1) was higher than the usually observed values of approximately 0.1 ng g(-1) but it was caused by the high dust concentration in the air in that region. Calculated on the basis of these measurements, the exposure to uranium for the Kuwait and southern Iraq population does not differ from the world average estimation. Therefore, the widely spread information in newspapers and Internet (see for example: [CADU NEWS, 2003. (3-13)]) concerning dramatic health deterioration for Iraqi citizens should not be linked directly with their exposure to DU after the Gulf War.

PMID: 14664872 DOI: 10.1016/S0160-4120(03)00151-X 

Campaign against depleted uranium

This is the text of the most recent CADU leaflet, all details are correct as of November 2008. You can download a pdf of the leaflet in high resolution (1.6MB), and low resolution (658KB). You are very welcome to distribute this material, so long as it is not for financial gain, but please attibute it to CADU & do not make any alterations without prior persmission.

What is DU?

  • Depleted Uranium is a waste product of the nuclear enrichment process.
  • After natural uranium has been ‘enriched’ to concentrate the isotope U235 for use in nuclear fuel or nuclear weapons, what remains is DU.
  • The process produces about 7 times more DU than enriched uranium.

Despite claims that DU is much less radioactive than natural uranium, it actually emits about 75% as much radioactivity.1 It is very dense and when it strikes armour it burns (it is ‘pyrophoric’).2 As a waste product, it is stockpiled by nuclear states, which then have an interest in finding uses for it.

DU is used as the ‘penetrator’ – a long dart at the core of the weapon – in armour piercing tank rounds and bullets. It is usually alloyed with another metal. When DU munitions strike a hard target the penetrator sheds around 20% of its mass, creating a fine dust of DU, burning at extremely high temperatures.3

This dust can spread 400 metres from the site immediately after an impact.4 It can be re-suspended by human activity, or by the wind, and has been reported to have traveled twenty-five miles on air currents.5 The heat of the DU impact and secondary fires means that much of the dust produced is ceramic, and can remain in the lungs for years if inhaled.6

Who uses it?

At least 18 countries are known to have DU in their arsenals:

  • UK
  • US
  • France
  • Russia
  • China
  • Greece
  • Turkey
  • Thailand
  • Taiwan
  • Israel
  • Bahrain
  • Egypt
  • Kuwait
  • Saudi Arabia
  • India
  • Belarus
  • Pakistan
  • Oman

Most of these countries were sold DU by the US, although the UK, France and Pakistan developed it independently.

Only the US and the UK are known to have fired it in warfare. It was used in the 1991 Gulf War, in the 2003 Iraq War, and also in Bosnia-Herzegovina in the 1990s and during the NATO war with Serbia in 1999. While its use has been claimed in a number of other conflicts, this has not been confirmed.7

Health Problems

  • DU is both chemically toxic and radioactive. In laboratory tests it damages human cells, causing DNA mutations and other carcinogenic effects.8
  • Reports of increased rates of cancer and birth defects have consistently followed DU usage.
  • Representatives from both the Serbian and Iraqi governments have linked its use with health problems amongst civilians.9
  • Many veterans remain convinced DU is responsible for health problems they have experienced since combat 

Article by The Guardian on the ecological impacts of war

From that article:

During the first Gulf War, the US bombed Iraq with 340 tonnes of missiles containing depleted uranium. Mac Skelton, a contributor to the Costs of War project at Brown, is writing his doctoral thesis in anthropology on Iraqis seeking cancer care in Lebanon. One of his articles reviews a number of studies that suggest a potential increase of cancer rates in Iraq, which has been linked to the shells used by the US and UK militaries.

In all wars, displaced people congregate en masse without infrastructure to support their presence. Refugees turn to the environment in order to fulfil their basic needs.

During the Rwandan civil war almost three-quarters of a million people lived in camps on the edge of Virunga national park. According to the Worldwatch Institute around 1,000 tonnes of wood was removed from the park every day for two years in order to build shelters, feed cooking fires and created charcoal for sale. By the time the conflict ended 105 sq km of forest had been damaged and 35 sq km stripped bare.

In Afghanistan too, wildlife and habitats have disappeared. The past 30 years of war has stripped the country of its trees, including precious native pistachio woodlands. The Costs of War Project says illegal logging by US-backed warlords and wood harvesting by refugees caused more than one-third of Afghanistan’s forests to vanish between 1990 and 2007. Drought, desertification and species loss have resulted. The number of migratory birds passing through Afghanistan has fallen by 85%. 

Are DU weapons illegal under current international law?

Using DU runs counter to the basic rules and principles enshrined in written and customary International Humanitarian Law. This relates among other things to:

  • The general principle on the protection of civilian populations from the effects of hostilities.
  • The principle that the right of the parties to an armed conflict to choose their methods or means of warfare is not unlimited.
  • The principle that the employment in armed conflicts of weapons, projectiles, and material and methods of warfare of a nature to cause superfluous injury or unnecessary suffering is forbidden.
  • The prohibition of the use of poisonous weapons according to Art. 23 para.1 of the Hague Regulations and the rules of the Poison Gas Protocol.
  • The prohibition of widespread damage to the natural environment and unjustified destruction according to the Hague Regulations and the First Additional Protocol to the Geneva Conventions.
  • The principle of ‘humanitarian proportionality’, which is contained in the St. Petersburg Declaration.
  • Additionally both Humanitarian Law and Environmental Law are based on the principle of precaution and proportionality, which at the very least, states should adhere to. Two resolutions of the Sub-Commission to the UN Commission on Human Rights (1996/16 and 1997/36) state that the use of uranium ammunition is not in conformity with existing International and Human Rights Law.

Accessed on 2-28-17

Research on DU remediation:


Contamination of soils with depleted uranium (DU) from munitions firing occurs in conflict zones and at test firing sites. This study reports the development of a chemical extraction methodology for remediation of soils contaminated with particulate DU. Uranium phases in soils from two sites at a UK firing range, MOD Eskmeals, were characterised by electron microscopy and sequential extraction. Uranium rich particles with characteristic spherical morphologies were observed in soils, consistent with other instances of DU munitions contamination. Batch extraction efficiencies for aqueous ammonium bicarbonate (42–50% total DU extracted), citric acid (30–42% total DU) and sulphuric acid (13–19% total DU) were evaluated. Characterisation of residues from bicarbonate-treated soils by synchrotron microfocus X-ray diffraction and X-ray absorption spectroscopy revealed partially leached U(IV)-oxide particles and some secondary uranyl-carbonate phases. Based on these data, a multi-stage extraction scheme was developed utilising leaching in ammonium bicarbonate followed by citric acid to dissolve secondary carbonate species. Site specific U extraction was improved to 68–87% total U by the application of this methodology, potentially providing a route to efficient DU decontamination using low cost, environmentally compatible reagents.

Another special report from the UN-Environmental Programme, did extensive studies and found that the penetrators from DU bombs were of concern, but found less evidence that there was widespread contamination in soil and water samples around the bomb impact zones.

Articles on Agent Orange:

Accessed on 3-21-17:

Chemical Warfare in Bosnia? by Human Rights Watch

CIA use of toxins in SE Asia and Afghanistan:

Libby, Montana asbestos poisoning:






Camping with Chris…and 150 other people

I first met Chris when I was volunteering at a refugee center. He talked about being frustrated with the lack of post resettlement services provided or in this case, not provided. There was something very special about this young man who was probably under 25 and was teaching ESL. When I met him instead of exercising interests like most of the young people I knew his age, he was mentally working on a vision for the refugees whose needs he saw were not being met. And what he came up with was clearly unusual, and truly great and ultimately successful concept. Mohawk Valley / Utica Community Center. A place where refugees could design and provide for their own needs. Chris finally located a lovely abandoned church which met the criteria for his vision and worked to turn it over to the refugees to put together something that addressed their real needs.

Through social media, I watched the work of MUCC grow into the lively and dynamic community of refugees running their world with lots of videos starring refugees running the show.  They put on cultural events, celebrated holidays of a secular and spiritual nature, created tutoring programs for young people and events for older people in the community.  They sang, they cooked, they ate and they flourished and somewhere in the background you could see Chris probably wearing a silly hat and laughing.  All this began as the Chris Sunderline Magic Show where

Now he and his group can  manifest just about Anything for Nothing — yes, they functioned totally without funding.  They had zero, zed, zilch money.  And by the way, something not usually mentioned in a bio  of this sort is that Chris, in addition to all else, he is tremendous fun, never afraid to be silly and has a wild sense of humor all of which go with his Can-Do nature.

Additionally, he never gives up on anyone or quits working on their behalf — he  build bridges for refugees into a larger community that is not always been excited about the presence of these newcomers.There is still the concern among citizens that refugees will drain the funds of social services. Chris and MUCC — Midtown Utica Community Center — provide most of the social services needed and in doing this has created a common-sense model of mutuality that could change the way services are provided in a larger world and in a way that builds strong communities where every one involved benefits.

And what do we think the young people learn about manifesting dreams whether it is going camping with carloads of friends or going to a prestigious university? They are learning as we all can that if we have a vision to which  we hold passionately,  there is probably a way to manifest it.  Chris is also a pragmatist: He organized Celebrate Refugee Day so he could introduce refugees to a community not always excited about their presence. He shows how the refugees enrich their new small city that is Utica, USA.  Oh and the food they bring. How much immigrants and refugees have added deliciously to the American diet. Chris, I say a cookbook is in order.

Incidentally, Chris teaches ESL in four different schools to earn a living for his family.  He has made nothing from his work with refugees but I do believe that he deserves to make a living at something he is so good at.  But for now, just let me introduce him.

Chris:  Utica is one of the most diverse cities in the United States. When I graduated high school, we were the 4th most diverse high school in the nation. Oh and for the record, I am white, ethnically part Lebanese.

Utica has always had refugees and as my parents were far from rich, I lived in a diverse neighborhood which proves what integration was created to do: I am a product of this.  Growing up I had friends from all different ethnic groups and socio economic backgrounds,many of whom were refugees. One of my best friends whom I first met in kindergarten was born here in Utica 2 months after her family arrived from Vietnam having fled for their lives.  I learned early what an Immigrant is and what a refugee is and the difference between them.

I grew up knowing how to curse in 10 languages. I had eaten chicken and rice dishes from 5 continents and had knowledge of holy days and traditions that few kids from the white western world would ever encounter. This was MY America. This was MY normal.

When I went away to college I discovered how white America is and how limited were the experiences of my fellow students.  How little they knew of other cultural traditions, foods and wonderful people. Most of my college classmates were not aware of the America I knew.

So create somewhat of a normal life for myself, I worked in a community center  where I was the only non-black person. This helped my need for diversity and was my way of getting to center.

I would sometimes bring a kid or two up to the college to see what it was like. The looks from the students could kill. If anyone asked why I was with this person of color, I would lie and say it was a friend from high school visiting — my way to ease everyone’s discomfort.

When I returned home after graduating, I immediately started working at the adult learning center, a place to teach adult ESL to learners who recently arrived. This was new for me. I had never engaged with the adults of a refugee community except peripherally – I was always introduced to refugees though school and those who were already able to communicate and socialize with me.

So this was a whole new world that I embraced fully. I was 20 when I started and working with the adults and was often seen as their indispensable son who happened to be fluent in English. After school I entered a circus where my act was trapeze-ing from  house to house helping with whatever was needed like landlord statements, locating  food sources, helping fill in job applications, finding appropriate social services, transportation and all the sort. And why?

After the initial 90 day resettlement period, all support for refugee resettlement had dried up due to a cutoff of federal funding. So I tried filling this void and did as much as I could. The work was exhausting and never ending but in it I found how truly enormous MY family was and how grateful I was to have them. After my bland college days, the work had context which made it easier and so worthwhile. I acquired more brothers, sisters, nieces, and nephews, and grandparents in the last few years than anyone has ever had and there was a sense of  deep deep satisfaction. Perhaps an instinctual memory of tribal culture for which I was wired. Who knows?

My approach seems to be different than most approaches to refugees — I think because of my early experiences in diversity I recognized the completely human presence in these new family members. Far too often for my taste, as I see them in social service settings,they’re referred to as clients, and that’s just not sufficient for me. It is so emotionally distancing — why are we afraid of getting close to our new coming people? As a result, the refugees existed separately in relationship to the larger community. After a few years of witnessing the creation of a post resettlement vacuum, I set out to develop a kind of agency, for want of a better word, maybe Refugee Community or something like that.

All I know is that my intention was to support my new family members talents and desires in a way that would lift us all up. I went searching for a building and after a bit, I found one and was allowed to claim it, And, ta da, the Midtown Utica Community Center was born as we took over an abandoned and beautiful old Episcopal church. In the first 3 months we clocked in over 3,000  hours of the buildings use.

Anything and everything that had been missing in the lives of refugees began happening at MUCC:  there were variety of religious services from all different faith traditions.  There were cultural events, after school programming, you name it, it’s happened and is happening at MUCC. We have no funding and no staff. MUCC is completely volunteer driven, mostly refugees — yes, there are skills talents and abilities and drive in our refugees so all the success of MUCC goes to the ambition and energy of the people who make it all happen  and I am still involved as much as ever and delight in seeing what my family members create as they have taken control — the whole point of the endeavor.  They know better than I do what they need.  So as I suspected without even being conscious of it, is that when you accept and recognize the humanity in another, they do become family and that goes both ways. And when someone is family, you will do anything you can to lift them up. And as they are lifted up,we’re all lifted up and no one is left behind. Including me.

submitted by Andrea Steffens,
Executive Director of Ashlar Center for Narrative Arts.

David Mura on Relevance — Japanese Internment — WWII

Recently, the internment of Japanese Americans was cited as setting a precedent for a Muslim registry.*  Of course we cannot let this happen; of course we must protect our Muslim, Arab and Indian American brothers and sisters. We must make sure that what happened to my parents and grandparents and the Japanese American community never happens again.

But what does a proposed Muslim registry say about our country? What does it say about our supposed belief in liberty and the Constitution? And what does it say about the internment camps themselves? Trump himself has refused to condemn the internment camps saying, “I would have had to be there at the time to give a proper answer.”

This past week, on the website Counter Current News, Jeremiah Jones put up photos taken by Dorothea Lange which recorded the “evacuation” and imprisonment of Japanese Americans in 1942. Though Lange was opposed to the internment, she took the commission because she felt “a true record of the evacuation would be valuable in the future.” After reviewing her photographs, military commanders seized them for the entire war, writing “Impounded” across some of the prints. They remained mostly unseen until 2006.

That the military censored Lange’s photos is not surprising. They record the quiet dignity with which Japanese Americans like my parents and Japanese immigrants like my grandparents withstood the internment orders–the violation of their civil liberties; their forced abandonment of their properties and businesses; being rounded up and sent to assembly centers, many of which were horse stables; and then being imprisoned behind barbed wire and rifle towers in desolate areas of the American west and south. Two thirds of those imprisoned were American citizens like my parents; half, like my parents, were under 18.

But the government did not merely censor photographs about the internment. In the early 1980’s, lawyer and professor Peter Irons was researching the internment cases that went to the Supreme Court. Irons uncovered evidence that Solicitor General Charles Fahy who argued Korematsu case, had suppressed FBI and military reports, reports which determined Japanese-American citizens posed no security risks. The documents proved that the military had lied to the Supreme Court; the government had knowingly used these lies to construct false arguments. This evidence led to the overturning of the Korematsu case, as US District Judge Marilyn Patel pronounced, “I would like to see the government admit that they were wrong and do something about it so this will never happen again to any American citizen of any race, creed or color…If anyone should do the pardoning, I should be the one pardoning the government for what they did to the Japanese-American people.”

Thus, the FBI lied during World War II when it claimed, “It is said, and no doubt with considerable truth, that every Japanese in the United States who can read and write is a member of the Japanese intelligence system.” To anyone truly familiar with the Japanese American community at the time, such a statement would have been ludicrous. Certainly it reflects nothing of how members of my own family felt about America, much less the Japanese Americans who joined the 442nd, the most decorated regiment in all of Europe during the war.*

When I was a child, my parents, like many Nisei, never talked to me about their imprisonment; I think they, like many Nisei, felt a deep sense of shame concerning what happened to them. When I finally learned of the internment camps in my late teens, I thought of them as a singular event that happened long ago. Then redress came and President Ronald Reagan apologized to the Japanese American community and said the real reason for the camps was not military necessity but “racism, wartime hysteria, and a failure of leadership.” I thought, Okay, we’ve recognized that wrong, it’s not going to happen again.

A couple weeks ago I saw “Hold These Truths,” a one person show about Gordon Hirabayashi, one of the four Japanese Americans to take the case of the internment camps to the Supreme Court. Nothing in the play mentioned anything contemporary, no words about Muslims or immigrants, much less Trump, but the play was now allegorical: It spoke beyond the Japanese American experience to the fears of Muslim, Arab and Indian Americans now feel; it spoke to the hate and suspicion that is now being directed towards them–as it was to my parents and their parents and other Japanese Americans.

Confronted with the election of Donald Trump and Trump’s own refusal to disavow the internment camps, I’m forced to this conclusion: The internment camps were not just a one time event, but symptomatic and revealing of what America still is. And when Trump’s minions mention the internment camps as precedence for a Muslim registry, they’re telling us what they mean in saying Make America Great Again. Somewhere in their conscious or unconscious, they believe this is an essential part of that greatness: We used to have the power to do this to people of color and other disenfranchised and we want that power again. We used to lie with impunity about people of color and the disenfranchised. We should be able to do that again.

Given the history of my family and my community, I reject this definition of America, knowing that it may very well be with us for a long time to come.

I start with this declaration: If they are going to take one of us, they must take us all. Put my name down too. I am a Muslim. I am a Japanese American. Never again.


* “Trump Support Cites Japanese Internment as ‘Precedent for Muslim Registry”–Huffington Post: “We’ve done it based on race, we’ve done it based on religion, we’ve done it based on region,” Higbie said. “We’ve done it with Iran back — back a while ago. We did it during World War II with Japanese.”

* No Japanese American was ever convicted of espionage.  Two thirds of those interned were Japanese Americans–US citizens.  Half were children (including my parents). All 120,000 Japanese Americans living on the West Coast were interned.  Though Trump has also referred to the treatment of Germans and Italians during World War II, the internment of Japanese Americans was clearly racially based.  For example, in the US at the time, there were more than 1.2 million people who had been born in German, 5 million who had two native-German parents, and 6 million with one native-German parent.  The US detained 11,000 ethnic Germans, almost all German nationals (.0009).

Nowhere To Go and Nothing We Can Do

We were looking from the balcony on the 15th floor at the Mediterranean spreading its waves on the wounded shore. Smiles coming at us through the windows from the high rise buildings near by. Children finally escaping their homes were checking to see if their neighbors are still alive… screaming in joy. Flocks of pigeons were flying across the sky wiping away the smoke and clearing the intense noise of the earlier bombing. Ceasefire was announced.

We stayed up most of the night — the bombing was too loud and we couldn’t sleep when our beds were shaking. So, we spent some of the next day catching up on sleep.  During the bombing, I was in a most helpless state, there is nothing we can do – but inside of there was a feeling of power. I wanted to say to those concerned that we are here and we will remain. If we are injured, killed, or displaced along the way, it is understood that it is part of the journey. It is our journey. No need to quit here, because it will not help anyone. I felt capable but I wasn’t doing much by outside standards.  I was taking care of the little baby growing inside of me. She was 7 months old. With every bombing, I used to hold her, hold my round belly with both arms. Because each time an airstrike hit nearby, she would feel a few moments of my entire body, the body that was carrying her, frozen in shock. Then, when I closed my eyes and breathed, I felt her move and I would tell her how brave she was. With a few breaths in and out, my body told her that it is going to be alright.

Being under bombing –not that you are being physically bombed or shelled yet, but it is happening nearby and it’s continuous — it puts you in a new state of mind that starts with thoughts of: am I brave enough not to shake when the strikes hits? Am I brave enough not to suddenly cry and be able to hide my fears? Am I wise enough to think that life and death are simply what we are… one can’t escape one or another. It is just the way we are.  It is how we are introduced to either one that differs. Then, at very practical level of questioning, one starts wondering, how can I make sure I sooth myself, keep physical stress to a minimum.  I am pregnant and it is a one I have longed for.  I want this baby.  How well can I sleep, keep my body calm, knowing I will wake up in a terrifying event. How can I be ready for the next one? Can my heart listen and believe that it must continue its regular pace of beating?

Most importantly, am I keeping my common sense about what is going on in the bigger context? That is; we are not the only ones in a conflict, rather there are millions who have suffered and are still suffering. Or, is it worth it? Who decides what is worth dying for? Even when you are in your most courageous moments, and your beliefs are so strong that fighting is the way to release you, once a human being gets into real pain, you stop and re-think this whole thing. Every life matters. And every life should be lived decently not just lived in survival. The question gets only harder when the threat comes closer. Last summer, we felt it more than ever.

All the people I know know people who were killed or injured, and certainly we all knew people who were displaced. So many displaced. It is so precious that one can be at home with no threat to suddenly evacuate or be directly attacked. Home is our stability, it is our base. It is where we are able to stay within our feelings and not be afraid to show them.

One day we had to leave after hearing rumors that our building will be destroyed. Preparing the emergency bag took an hour in real time, but took many more to collect the important things that have so many memories – which ones to leave which ones to take. This definitely took longer than the time of an airstrike.

Thankfully – we didn’t contribute further to the increase in the number of refugees – our borders were closed for travel so there was only internal displacement within this 370 km2 – geography that is twice the size of Washington, DC but with three times its population.  We were praised for resilience because we were not able to escape and take refuge elsewhere. We managed to survive and stay sane.

Tips for staying sane.

One:  Believe. Believe that this is where you belong even if your family brought you to this place a few years or decades before. It is very helpful to acknowledge that we are here because it is meant to be and whether you are here today and somewhere else tomorrow – both here and there have some kind of test. This is the one that is yours now.

Two: Stay connected. Just live who and what you are without trying to live other’s story, yours is good enough. You do not have to act as if you are another superhero you see on TV or even a brave woman who is standing still after watching her child being killed.

Three: Spend some time in silence, a precious commodity in a war. Listening to the silence is sometimes a lovely practice. Going deeper into silence and filling your mind and body with it may help give you a moment to come back to yourself and process the noise.

Four. Yoga with its deep breathing and stretching is good. But don’t be too ambitious. The best practice of yoga is different in the circumstances of war. Some times when I practiced a posture of total relaxation I could only cry or fall asleep.  This was all right. I was not able to face and endure the amount of fear and tension in my body and remain connected.  On the mat, you collect the pains you check in with everything heart beat all the parts that were challenged by fear and anxiety. You praise your commitment to the self. You bring the joy of good energy. All starting at one side of the mat continuing to tell a story of this exhausted body.

I had been doing yoga for four 4 years and  I was lucky to have been taught by someone who realized the difference between the colorful, fancy, fit and clean yoga magazine kind of practice and the practice in a war zone.  At her class, we would either bring the memory of the bombings of the night before, or this would be waiting for us and we would we experience it together. F16s flying at low altitudes, an airstrike here or there. As we have gotten used to this in our daily life, we would test it while practicing focus and inner connection. Observing reactions of our bodies giving them space to be present even in the most awkward and difficult moments.

Five: My infinitely patient husband and I play backgammon with tea or coffee and we even sit on the balcony when it is not entirely a good idea. Joy can come from unexpected activity.  Remember some games we played as children.

Six: With a positive and optimistic partner, I was able to embrace fear and live with it rather than acting brave.

Seven: Social media helped.   I made the best use of it. But here were days without internet.  Whenever there was internet and electricity, I used it to communicate on Social Media. Connect with new people who were and still are concerned about our situation and friends who would wait every day for a message on Facebook or twitter to make sure we were still okay. Sharing our daily stories was mutually beneficial.

Eight:  Being positive was my savior. Intense negative feelings are contagious. They transfer, grow and expand, especially fear/anxiety. If anxiety gets out of control it will likely affect others. Once faced with assurance and a sense of ‘safety’ – even imaginary safety – negative feelings diminish, or at least they don’t stay persistently.  They are not constant.  I learn to pay exquisite attention to what is going on inside of me.

This was a time when there was nowhere to go and nothing we could to do to change our circumstances.  Keeping fear in perspective is what we tried to master – being aware of what was going on inside us.  Letting things go – might be the best and only thing to do.  Let go. Just let go.

And then with a few breaths in and a few breaths out, my body tells my baby that she is going to be alright.

Najla Shawa is our guest writer and is an associate.  She is a wife and mother of two children and has lived in Gaza all her life with occasional visits to other countries. and is a humanitarian Aid Worker there.  She has a wise and unusual perspective.  She holds a degree in Public Policy from George Mason University.

The Holocaust Remembers Me

By Rabbi Ora Nitkan-Kaner    

When I say I’m a grandchild of Holocaust survivors, this is what I imagine you hear: “I am claiming an important piece of Jewish history as my own.” “My grandparents experienced horrific pain and trauma, but they survived.” “I stand by the clarion call of ‘Never Again.’”

When I say I’m a grandchild of Holocaust survivors, this is how it feels: I startle and jump at loud noises that don’t seem to startle anyone else. The basement of my body sends me messages not to love people because they will be ripped from me and killed. (Who will do the killing? It doesn’t matter. Logic doesn’t inform this.) When I deal with bureaucracy – faceless, nameless, blameless bureaucracy, bureaucracy that feels like a smooth stone wall that goes on forever and has no cracks – I am terrified. My throat tightens. When an official letter comes in the mail, I am tense even before I open it, waiting blank-minded for the bad news to appear. Expecting my life to end like an overturned bowl of milk, like entrails that can’t be stuffed back into the cavity of the belly.

I appear to bear the bodily wounds of a trauma I never lived.

I am not a victim. I was not killed in Auschwitz like my uncle Yaakov. I am not a survivor. I did not live through Auschwitz like my grandmother Sally, whose hugs cracked my child-ribs, who secreted napkins wrapped around food around her nursing home room.

I do not have PTSD. I do not have flashbacks, because what mental movie reel would my mind replay? Memories of growing up in Jewish Toronto, safe? Memories of peering at my grandfather Meilech’s tattoo while he peeled apples in a warm yellow kitchen, safe? Memories of Yom HaShoahs observed yearly in day school, made to sing ‘Zog Nit Kein Mol’ (‘Never Say That This Will Be The Last Road For You’), safe? Memories of watching Schindler’s List with my sixth grade class, then sobbing during recess, safe? Memories of visiting a resurrected synagogue in Krakow, crying, while my Polish Catholic boyfriend (he-will-never-understand) waited for me at home, safe?

All of my memories belie the fear that fills me.

My fear looks like a gray monolith, a massive seeping stone that can walk, that drags me along behind it. I have respect for my fear: it’s so constant, so resilient. I am revolted by my fear: it’s unsightly, so shifty, so chameleonic. I am attached to my fear: maybe it’s the only birthright I can claim as my own. So how could I even try to let it go? To ask it to let go of me?

And beyond all this, guilt: Who am I to feel burdened by fear? What a light burden, what a nothing-burden, what a mockery of what my uncle, and my grandmother’s brother, her other brother, other brother, mother, father, aunt, aunt, uncle went through, and my grandfather’s brother, his other brother, other brother, mother, father, uncle, uncle, aunt, aunt, aunt, went through. (Not ‘went through’, though, there was no through. They went up, in smoke.)

Last week the students at the university where I work put on a Holocaust commemoration program. They wanted to display poster-boards and read lists of names in a cafeteria on campus. So I printed a list of murdered Jews from the Yad VaShem website, 86 pages long. We read the names aloud for two hours, as students walked by, embarrassed, or ate French fries, embarrassed, or paid no attention whatsoever, unembarrassed, as they should. (At a certain point, on a large enough scale, death and its memorializations become embarrassing. There is no way to properly honour a genocide. The sharpest feeling it provokes now may only be discomfort.)

We read names of murdered Jews for two hours, then cleaned up. And I was left with a stack of papers – 86 in number – with the names of thousands of dead. And I was stuck: What was I supposed to do with these pages? Frame them? Burn each one reverently? Throw them in the garbage? How should I memorialize the dead who are not-mine, when I cannot fully mourn my dead whom I never met, of whom I am a heavy echo?