Some Interesting Facts…

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Although many are finding fault with all sides for the breakdown of the Kerry negotiations – we are in the blame game period – I just encountered a critical piece of information. Peace Now (Shalom Achshav) in Israel, the premier monitor of settlement construction in the West Bank, just released a summary of settlement planning and construction activity that took place over the Green Line during the 9 months of the Kerry negotiations. Here is an excerpt (bold type is from the original):

During the 9 months of Secretary Kerry’s efforts in the region, the Netanyahu Government promoted plans and tenders for at least 13,851 housing units in the settlements and East Jerusalem – an average of 50 units per day and 1,540 units per month.

The 13,851 units include:

1 – Tenders for 4,868 units – 2,248 of them in West Bank settlements and 2,620 units in East Jerusalem. (There were also tenders for another 1,235 units in re-issued tenders, where the tenders are calls for bids to buy units that weren’t sold in previous tenders).

2 – Promotion of plans for 8,983 units – 6,561 of them in West Bank settlements and 2,422 in East Jerusalem.

The average yearly number of tenders was 4 times higher compared to previous years.

 Doubling the number of construction Starts:

According to the Israeli CBS data, in the second half of year 2013, some 828 new units were started to be built in the settlements, while at the equivalent time in 2012, only 484 units started. (the CBS data does not include the first three months of 2014).

Click here to read the full report with additional statistics.

This new construction also included legalizing some previously “illegal” settlements and the establishment of new ones. Assuming an average family of 4 for each housing unit (this is a conservative figure for settlers), these 13,851 new housing units would ultimately mean an additional 55,400 people living in East Jerusalem and the West Bank – roughly a 10% population increase from just nine months of planning activity.

From the perspective of Palestinian towns and villages, where residents have seen Israeli settlements sprout like mushrooms on the surrounding hilltops while their farmland is taken and their lives further impoverished and restricted, this increased settlement activity created intolerable facts on the ground. Although some blame can be apportioned to all sides, it is no wonder that the Palestinian leadership found it politically impossible to continue and finally gave up, choosing instead to pursue other avenues.

As Peace Now stated in their summary of the report, “[This settlement activity showed] …not only that the construction and the announcements of settlements were destructive for the American efforts and for the faith between the two sides, it also created facts on the ground that proved more than anything else that the Netanyahu Government did not mean to go for a two state solution but rather acted in order to strengthen the Israeli control over the Occupied Territories.” 

It is facts and actions like this that will provide traction for the BDS (Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions) movement. Supporters of Israel will have less and less credibility to counter that.

 

 

 

What Happens if the Kerry Negotiations Fail?

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I am sorry that it’s been such a long time since I posted on this blog. Life has been hectic and time has been at a premium so please view this column as a bit of catch up.

As most of you know, prospects for peace look bleak right now as the Kerry negotiations teeter on the verge of a complete breakdown. I am posting below a few articles from the past several months that are definitely worth a read since they offer a big picture overview of the situation and the ramifications if negotiations fail.

1 – The most important article that anyone who cares about Israel should read, whether on the left or the right, is from the January 31st edition of The New York Times. Hersh Goodman, a respected centrist journalist in Israel, outlines how the BDS movement (Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions) is growing stronger and, if the negotiations do not succeed, it will gain momentum. As the author states, whether or not Israel fits the exact definition of an apartheid state is irrelevant. The fact is that much of the world, including some of Israel’s key trading partners and world opinion leaders, are beginning to think that it is. There is the old saying, “If it looks like a duck, swims like a duck, and quacks like a duck, then it probably is a duck.”

Israel’s economy is based on exports and it is closely wired to the world with its booming high tech and biotech industries. All that will slowly grind to a halt if the negotiations fail. Israel will be blamed because it cannot win the propaganda war as it continues to announce new building on the West Bank, as it has done throughout the Kerry negotiations, and the oppressive and photogenic aspects of the occupation continues. The future is an Israel that is economically crippled, as South Africa was. Now those on the right will proclaim “That’s not fair! Israel is not an apartheid state!” but world opinion, fair or not, does not see it that way. It is time that those in power realize that their actions to achieve the dream of a Greater Israel will end up with there being no Israel. Click here to fully understand this dose of reality.

2 – Bernard Avishai, an economist and journalist on the left, has long raised the issue of the economic threat to Israel from the BDS movement and how the current government’s policies will kill the golden goose of Israel’s high-tech miracle. His recent column in The New Yorker offers a analysis of the current political situation in Israel vis-à-vis the negotiations – Netanyahu cannot survive politically with his current coalition if he agrees to a two-state solution. However, there is a course that Kerry and Obama can take, along with the moderate elements in the Israeli polity, to move the negotiations forward. But it will take courage and it is risky. Click here for Avishai’s penetrating perspective.

3 – To reinforce how deeply the ideological far-right has penetrated into Israeli policy making, J.J. Goldberg’s column in The Jewish Forward last February documented how former leaders of the Mossad, Shin Bet, military intelligence and the IDF general staff are being attacked for being pro-Palestinian because they favor a two-state solution and they fear the consequences if the negotiations fail. This article is just one example of how ideology has trumped rational and realistic decision-making in the highest echelons of the Israeli government. Click here to better understand this topsy-turvey perspective.

4 – And finally, to further illustrate the rise of the far-right in Israeli politics, below is an excerpt from an April 11th op-ed in The New York Times with the provocative title, “Are Israel and Iran Trading Places.” The authors’ position regarding Israel is stated succinctly at the beginning of their article.

 “…secular democrats in Israel have been losing ground to religious and right-wing extremists who feel comfortable openly attacking the United States, Israel’s strongest ally. In recent months, Israel’s defense minister, Moshe Yaalon, called Secretary of State John Kerry “obsessive and messianic,” while Naftali Bennett, Israel’s economy minister, labeled Mr. Kerry a “mouthpiece” for anti-Semitic elements attempting to boycott Israel.

 Israel’s secular democrats are growing increasingly worried that Israel’s future may bear an uncomfortable resemblance to Iran’s recent past.”

Near the end of the article, the authors segue into a brief discussion of how the BDS movement is gaining traction.

“If Israel continues the expansion of settlements, and peace talks serve no purpose but the extension of the status quo, the real existential threat to Israel will not be Iran’s nuclear program but rather a surging tide of economic sanctions.

What began a few years ago with individual efforts to get supermarket shoppers in Western countries to boycott Israeli oranges and hummus has turned into an orchestrated international campaign, calling for boycotts, divestment and sanctions against Israeli companies and institutions.

From academic boycotts to calls for divestment on American university campuses to the unwillingness of more and more European financial institutions to invest in or partner with Israeli companies and banks that operate in the West Bank, the “B.D.S.” movement is gaining momentum. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has recently called B.D.S. advocates “classical anti-Semites in modern garb.”

In the past, Israel could rely on Western nations and especially the United States to halt such initiatives, but as the fabric of Israel’s population changes, and Jewish populations in the West become less religious and less uncritically pro-Israel, the reflex to stand by the Jewish state, regardless of its policies, is weakening.

Moreover, as Western countries shift toward greater respect for human rights, the occupation is perceived as a violation of Western liberal norms. A new generation of American Jews sees a fundamental tension between their own liberal values and many Israeli policies.

Click here to read the full column, along with the authors’ views on the potential trends in Iranian society.

It is possible that all we are facing now is political posturing and hardball negotiating tactics on the part of Netanyahu and Abbas, and that the negotiations will get back on track shortly. But if they don’t, the above articles offer a peak at the possible consequences, the least of which might be the further strengthening of the paranoid right as they circle the wagons and work to destroy the democratic and Western liberal underpinnings of Israeli society in the name of survival. There already are influential currents in the Knesset intent on doing that.

Truth to Power

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The Act of “granting them refuge was in conformity with Jewish tradition of holding no higher imperative than the saving of human life and giving aid, succor and haven to strangers in distress.

I shall always remember with humble pride that my first act as the new prime minister of Israel was to issue the instruction that brought these unfortunate and innocent people to our shores.”

– Menachem Begin on his 1977 decision to invite Vietnamese Boat People who were fleeing communist rule to seek refuge in Israel.

The past two weeks have been momentous times for African asylum seekers in Israel. The fanciest restaurants in Tel Aviv were using disposable plates and cutlery since their dishwashers were all absent because of a prolonged general strike by the refugees. Mass demonstrations in Tel Aviv attracted up to 30,000 people (out of an estimated population of 55,000 refugees) who marched through the streets demanding fair treatment and justice. Demonstrations have continued this past week, including a march by refugee women and children in Tel Aviv to the US Embassy. Refugee representative were permitted to testify in a meeting at the Knesset after previously being banned from the building by the Speaker of the Knesset.

Unfortunately, the government was unmoved with Prime Minister Netanyahu and his allies issuing further threats against this helpless and marginalized population.

As background, almost all the refugees come from the most war-torn and oppressive countries in Africa, escaping war, genocide, prison and torture. They risked their lives to seek sanctuary in Israel by fleeing across the Sinai Peninsula where many were kidnapped, raped, and tortured for ransom by the Bedouin. There have been frequent reports of organ harvesting where refugees are cut open for profit, killing them in the process.

Over 80% come from Eritrea and Sudan, mainly Darfur, seeking asylum. As I wrote in a post in March 2012:

“In Israel, these two nationalities are not permitted to file for asylum — despite the life-threatening situation in both countries. Instead, they are given a temporary visa that includes a pending deportation order. The visa is stamped “This is not a work permit,” which makes it hard to obtain a job and exposes the asylum seekers to abuse and exploitation if they are hired illegally. This leads to a life of uncertainty and unending stress, and obviously no money for food or shelter.

In comparison, the United States, despite its stringent immigration policies, has granted asylum to 97% of Eritrean refugees who apply (Canada approved 99%).

The remaining 15% of refugees who come from other African countries are permitted to apply for asylum in Israel. 3,200 of them filed asylum applications in 2008 and 2009. However, the government committee responsible for evaluating these requests discussed only 52. The rest were rejected via email without any discussion. Of those 52 applications, only three refugees were granted asylum – one-tenth of one percent of all who applied.”

Unfortunately, more recent statistics of the number of asylum applications granted have not improved. Yet the government continues to state that these refugees are migrant workers, despite never even reviewing their asylum applications to ascertain their veracity. I detailed in several prior blog entries  how the Netanyahu government has demonized these poor souls, calling them a “cancer on society” “an existential threat” and “terrorists” – this from a country where much of the population themselves fled war, genocide and oppression and were labeled with vile anti-Semitic slurs. Race riots and fire bombings of refugee apartments and even a day care center in 2012 were the result of politicians making inflammatory speeches to racist crowds at rallies.

In the past year the government has instituted draconian policies of mass roundups and long-term incarceration in prison facilities in the Negev. Fathers are torn from their children and husbands from wives on the streets of Tel Aviv, leaving devastation and even starvation in the wake. Over a thousand were secretly deported back to South Sudan where their lives are at risk. These were cynical “voluntary” deportations made under threat of life-long detention.

So two weeks ago, the refugee community and their supporters finally had enough. They went on strike and marched. Unfortunately the government responded with the usual demagoguery that was parroted by much of the mainstream media.

This is not to deny that the African refugee situation in Israel is a complicated issue. How can a small country of under 8 million people throw open its doors to unlimited refugees? That would impose both severe economic and cultural burdens on the country. Long-term, the influx could grow and threaten the demographic and cultural makeup of the land.

However, counter-balancing these fears are several facts. The border with Sinai has been sealed with a high-tech fence so the flow of new refugees has slowed to a trickle. There are an estimated 200,000 migrant workers in Israel from China, Thailand and the Philippines who have been granted work visas. Why not give those visas to the African’s who are fleeing persecution and seeking asylum? The country needs them as manual laborers. And finally, Israel was founded by refugees fleeing oppression and it played a key role in 1951 to create the United Nations Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees. It is a betrayal of the founding principles of the country to treat asylum seekers in this manner.

This is a theme addressed in a column from the Jerusalem Post written by an American who made Aliyah several years ago and is bewildered by the actions of his adopted country. Click here to read this first-hand account of today’s refugee situation.

And finally, I am pasting in below an email sent last week by my good friend Gideon to the Good People Fund which has been supporting his humanitarian work. Gideon spends his days driving around Tel Aviv collecting food that would otherwise be thrown out from restaurants, caterers, and bakeries and distributing it to shelters and poverty stricken families. Much of his work has centered on the African refugee community where he is the savior of last resort for many particularly devastating cases, including a refugee couple who were turned into human torches in a firebombing last year and, just last week, a family with a one year-old baby who was stabbed in the head while in his mother’s arms by a racist. Here is Gideon’s email.

“You a have no idea what’s going on around here.

The refugee community has decided to continue their work strike indefinitely and are marching in the morning all the way from Tel-Aviv to Jerusalem. I am crazy enough to start marching with them until I fall, which will probably be around Ben-Gurion airport. Which is fine, I’ll just ask to be put on a flight to the US. I tell you it’s wild, really wild, in the developing attitude of government ministries and their fascist boss towards refugees. But also the wide public is so anti refugees that it amazes me over and over again. I simply can’t believe it as I watch it.

No work, no money in the pocket for several families for baby food (Similac, 94 NIS per week + diapers same amount) so there are 4-5 families you [The Good People Fund] and the Zichron group are now helping, including the family whose baby was stabbed and still is in very critical situation and on life support machines. I see them every day.

I want to buy a container full of Similac and diapers for babies straight from a manufacturer. It’s a time when no money is coming in for the refugees. I can only take care in a very small way of the food needs of 50,000 people who are moving towards a starvation diet for them and their children.

Eritrean Sister Aziza updated me on one family who are really starving and one of their small children died last week in hospital. Reason of death was  ‘starvation.’  Can you believe this? I am going to see them tomorrow.

It is so impressive and amazing how the whole refugee community got together, united, and are determined to fight for their freedom all the way to starvation and death. It’s a sorry human drama unfolding in front of my eyes and I am so involved and identify and empathize with these wonderful people, that it can rip you apart and at the same time I am so impressed by their sincerity, honesty and the authenticity in what they are doing to win their basic human right: ‘freedom’ . But the more they protest and demonstrate it seems that it has the opposite effect and people are angry at them and hate them even more. Amazing. Huge shame.”

(NOTE: I heard from Gideon today and apparently the situation with the babies and young children of the refugees has gotten worse. Another baby died from what the hospital called “malnutrition,” and hunger appears to be spreading since many refugees lost their jobs due to their general strike.)

Reflections for the New Year

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During the past few months I read several articles that made me sit up and take notice. I want to share these for reflection as the new year dawns.

1 – A very short column with just a few insightful paragraphs to mull over about the impact of technology on our lives.

The Cost of Technology

2 – For those concerned about the herbicides and pesticides in our food, here is a solution that would make our food healthier, improve our environment, and reduce global warming – yet it receives only a fraction of the necessary research funding required to make it a reality.

Now This is Natural Food

3 – And finally, here is a column from last October that draws parallels with today’s attacks on Obamacare to the 1950’s when some government leaders chose to inflame popular opinion and took actions for political gain rather than governing for the  common good. It is a lesson for our time.

A Better Way to Tackle Health law

Best wishes for a good new year.

The War on the Poor

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Sometimes I read something that is just so crystal clear that it slices through the misinformation and pre-conceived notions that too often are being disseminated as truth. This is how I just felt when I read a column by Charles M. Blow in The New York Times. In a way, it is a fitting sequel to my post yesterday about the Good People Fund, explaining in part the rationale for the economic and social devastation that has crushed significant segments of the American population. I am pasting in below the first part of the column with the hope that it will be more widely read.

The Appalling Stance of Rand Paul

Charles M. Blow

I don’t put much past politicians. I stay prepared for the worst. But occasionally someone says something so insensitive that it catches me flat-footed.

Senator Rand Paul, Republican of Kentucky, said Sunday on Fox News: “I do support unemployment benefits for the 26 weeks that they’re paid for. If you extend it beyond that, you do a disservice to these workers.”

This statement strikes at the heart — were a heart to exist — of the divide between conservatives and liberals about whether the social safety net provides temporary help for those who hit hard times or functions as a kind of glue to keep them stuck there.

Whereas I am sure that some people will abuse any form of help, I’m by no means convinced that this is the exclusive domain of the poor and put-upon. Businesses and the wealthy regularly take advantage of subsidies and tax loopholes without blinking an eye. But somehow, when some poor people, or those who unexpectedly fall on hard times, take advantage of benefits for which they are eligible it’s an indictment of the morality and character of the poor as a whole.

The poor are easy to pick on. They are the great boogeymen and women, dragging us down, costing us money, gobbling up resources. That seems to be the conservative sentiment.

We have gone from a war on poverty in this country to a war on the poor, in which poor people are routinely demonized and scapegoated and attacked, and conservatives have led the charge.

They paint the poor as takers, work averse, in need of motivation and incentive.

Well, that is simply not my experience with poverty. I have been poor, and both my parents worked. I grew up among poor people….

Click here to read the rest of this column.

The Good People Fund

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I have served on the Board of Directors of the Good People Fund (www.goodpeoplefund.org) for the past 4 years because it is one of the best – and unique – ways to support people who need a helping hand. Occasionally on this blog I have highlighted opportunities for readers to sign petitions or to help particular charitable projects in need of funding. Given that now is when many folks think about year-end donations, I thought I would share a letter I recently sent to some friends about the fund. I hope you will read it and download the annual report – or send away for the printed version. It tells the stories of the 60 amazing Good People whom the fund supports in their mission of making our world a better place.

Here’s the letter:

“Last month I received word of this story from the Good People Fund:

“The request came from an attorney who works as a public defender. We have interacted with her several times and are always stunned by the needs she comes across and how relatively small sums of money can have such a profound impact. This situation was no different. A single father raising three young children on his own, one of whom has a serious mental illness, is evicted from his apartment and forced to bring his young family to a homeless shelter. In the rush to relocate he is forced to place some of the family’s belongings in a storage facility since the shelter limits personal items. Under normal circumstances, public assistance will pay for the storage costs but in this case the bureaucracy failed when the caseworker who handled the claim never filed for payment. With a notice from the storage company that all of his personal items were to be auctioned off in a few days, it seemed as if there was no solution — until we were called and asked if we could help. Within two hours we had all of the documentation we needed and called the storage company to pay the outstanding balance.”

As a board member of the Good People Fund I have heard many such stories: families about to be evicted onto the street, families with no food in the pantry, or an unaffordable car repair threatening the ability to drive to the job that supports a family – all situations quickly and anonymously “fixed” by the fund.

This is in addition to the 60 extraordinary Good People in Israel and America highlighted in the new annual report (can be downloaded in the right column here). There you will read how these individuals bring their passion and energy to fixing the world in their own special way – starting small non-profits, often with innovative strategies that collectively help many thousands of people who are hungry, isolated, and with no where else to turn.

I have met with many of these good people. I walk away from those meetings humbled and in awe, not just from the help they provide to the folks they serve but also from their personal sacrifice.  Many give up jobs and money for their missions, and they devote their lives to it.

The past five years have been tough times for those in need. In Israel, the social safety net is a pale shadow of what it once was. In the USA, budget cuts and sequestration is decimating the social service sector, leaving those most in need helpless in ways that are hard to imagine. Meanwhile, our Good People are there, working quietly under the radar to fill the gaps. Because their overhead is so low, funds go directly to serve those most in need, maximizing the effect of every dollar.

You can make a general donation that will be allocated by the fund to where the need is greatest or you can make designated donations to support just those Good People who are of most interest to you. I hope you can read their stories in the annual report and join me in supporting their work.

Best wishes,

Allen”

Please forward this on to those who might be interested. Thanks!

Seattle

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The last time I wrote a column on this blog I was living in Stillwater, Oklahoma after leaving Tel Aviv just a short time before. Well, things seem to change rapidly in my nomadic life and I am writing this from my small apartment in Seattle where I have temporarily moved to help our son in his growing woodworking business. Check out his amazing staircases and furniture that he can ship and install anywhere in the USA: www.nkwoodworking.com. (Sorry for the shameless plug!)

Moving on to non-commercial topics, in honor of Thanksgiving, which in part commemorates the founding of English America, I am enclosing a link to a fascinating article I read a few weeks ago by Daniel Hannan in The Wall Street Journal titled “The World of English Freedoms.” His column traces the historical and cultural differences between the worldwide family of nations and those select few in the “Anglosphere,” the English speaking world. The column will no doubt delight those who consider themselves politically Conservative, although there are some observations that will give pause to those on the religious right. But even more important, for those on the left it will provide insight into the worldview of the American libertarian right – and might even generate some empathy and even agreement with some of their perspectives.  Here is an excerpt that will give you a glimpse of Hannan’s thesis.

What made the Anglosphere different? Foreign visitors through the centuries remarked on a number of peculiar characteristics: the profusion of nonstate organizations, clubs, charities and foundations; the cheerful materialism of the population; the strong county institutions, including locally chosen law officers and judges; the easy coexistence of different denominations (religious toleration wasn’t unique to the Anglosphere, but religious equality—that is, freedom for every sect to proselytize—was almost unknown in the rest of the world). They were struck by the weakness, in both law and custom, of the extended family, and by the converse emphasis on individualism. They wondered at the stubborn elevation of private property over raison d’état, of personal freedom over collective need.

Many of them, including Tocqueville and Montesquieu, connected the liberty that English-speakers took for granted to geography. Outside North America, most of the Anglosphere is an extended archipelago: Great Britain, Ireland, Australia, New Zealand, Hong Kong, Singapore, the more democratic Caribbean states. North America, although not literally isolated, was geopolitically more remote than any of them, “kindly separated by nature and a wide ocean,” as Jefferson put it in his 1801 inaugural address, “from the exterminating havoc [of Europe].”

Isolation meant that there was no need for a standing army in peacetime, which in turn meant that the government had no mechanism for internal repression. When rulers wanted something, usually revenue, they had to ask nicely, by summoning people’s representatives in an assembly. It is no coincidence that the world’s oldest parliaments—England, Iceland, the Faroes, the Isle of Man—are on islands.

Above all, liberty was tied up with something that foreign observers could only marvel at: the miracle of the common law. Laws weren’t written down in the abstract and then applied to particular disputes; they built up, like a coral reef, case by case. They came not from the state but from the people. The common law wasn’t a tool of government but an ally of liberty: It placed itself across the path of the Stuarts and George III; it ruled that the bonds of slavery disappeared the moment a man set foot on English soil.

Click here to read the rest.

To conclude this post and to come full circle back to Thanksgiving in Seattle, I recently took a walk near my apartment on the top of a hill in West Seattle with a spectacular view of the downtown skyscrapers across Puget Sound. At the spot with the best vantage point I passed a giant totem pole and a plaque with a speech delivered by Chief Sealth, the chief of the Duwamish Indians in the mid-1800’s who had lived nearby. (The city was named after him by the white men who mispronounced his name as Chief “Seattle.”) The chief befriended the first white settlers who arrived to stay on the shores of Puget Sound in 1851. Although that amity did not help his people in the long run, Chief Sealth was a skilled orator and below is the text from the plaque with his most famous speech. Although the authenticity of this text is doubted by scholars, the thoughts do resemble views he expressed in other talks. We might want to contemplate these words during this time of holidays and thanksgiving.

You must teach your children that the ground beneath their feet is the ashes of your grandfathers. So that they will respect the land, tell your children that the earth is rich with the lives of our kin.

Teach your children what we have taught our children, that the earth is our mother.

Whatever befalls the earth befalls the sons of the earth. If men spit upon the ground, they spit upon themselves.

This we know: The earth does not belong to man; man belongs to the earth. This we know.

All things are connected like the blood which unites one family. All things are connected.

Whatever befalls the earth befalls the sons of the earth. Man did not weave the web of life: he is merely a strand in it. Whatever he does to the web, he does to himself.

Even the white man, whose God walks and talks with him as friend to friend, cannot be exempt from the common destiny.

We may be brothers after all.

We shall see.

One thing we know, which the white man may one day discover – our God is the same God,

You may think now that you own him as you wish to own our land; but you cannot. He is the God of man, and his compassion is equal for the red man and the white.

This earth is precious to him, and to harm the earth is to heap contempt on its creator…

Where is the thicket? Gone

Where is the eagle? Gone.

The end of living and the beginning of survival.

Chief Sealth, 1854

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