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Unnatural Disaster: 200 homes bulldozed into ground at Jenin.

Nüz

On the War Path

To prune or not to prune phallic trees. That was a big deal for some local residents last week. But it sure must have seemed irrelevant to Resource Center for Nonviolence Director Scott Kennedy and construction consultant Myles Corcoran, who recently witnessed massive despair and destruction in Jenin, a refugee camp since 1948 and the site of ferocious fighting in recent weeks.

Says Kennedy, who delivered food and medicine to Jenin as part of an Inter Faith Peace Builders delegation, "Sixty percent of the suicide bombers are said to have come from Jenin, whose destruction was clearly a case of collective punishment. But by demolishing 200 homes, aren't they sowing the seeds of the next generation of suicide bombers to the extent this phenomenon grows out of rage and despair?"

Adds Corcoran, "We realized we weren't walking on a road, but the compressed remains of hundreds of houses. It was akin to the WTC."

If Jenin was horrible, the deserted streets of curfewed Hebron were eerie, Corcoran says.

"It gave me the creeps to see Stars of David and graffiti saying 'Death to Arabs' painted on deserted Arab storefronts. I was upset by the purposeful destruction of built things. We met one soldier who didn't feel right about being there with the terrified Palestinian community locked in their houses. But we also met Orthodox settlers, who argued that God gave them the land, that all Arabs should go. 'Either talk to our enemies or us,' one Jewish settler told us."

F-16 bombers have flattened the Palestinian Authority's Security HQ, Ministry of Education and Bureau of Statistics, Kennedy noted. "Sharon is not just uprooting terrorist infrastructure, but dismantling what Palestinians have achieved in terms of a civil society. He does not want Palestine to resemble anything viable."

Delegation members also met with Rami Elhananan, who belongs to the Association of Bereaved Families and whose 14-year-old daughter was killed by a suicide bombing in 1997. Says Corcoran, "Rami hadn't forgiven the perpetuators, nor had he gotten over his anger, but he was clear there must be a peaceful solution, which includes a free Palestinian state."

"The lesson of Belfast was you can't let extremists destroy the peace process," says Kennedy. "Even Bush seems to be getting that picture, and the American Jewish progressive community has kicked into gear. And people here are interested and deeply troubled, but if you try to get them to understand the source of suicide bombings, they think you are justifying them. Hard-liners may not want it, but everybody knows there'll be peace one day. Why go through more violence and death?"

Beyond the despair, Kennedy says there was hope that the region is getting closer to realizing a two-state vision of Israel and Palestine.

"There's a peace brain drain going on," says Kennedy. "The most thoughtful, tolerant liberal-minded people are leaving. And about 1,000 reserve officers say they won't serve."

The most awkward moment of their trip, says Kennedy, was when Prez Bush called Sharon "a man of peace" during their trip.

"The cab drivers, the falafel makers, the kids on the street, even the Israelis who support the war were saying, 'Sharon, a man of peace?' Sharon's response is all part of the post-911 rhetoric of war against terrorism. It's the same logic--we totally pulverize a Third World country."


Kennedy and Corcoran report on their experiences Friday, May 17, 7:30pm, at the Resource Center for Nonviolence; 421.0829.

Bargain Basement?

Just because the county lost the utility tax in March doesn't mean the cost of living went down. And while Santa Cruz city boasts "the highest living wage nationwide," locals know $11/hour is really a "basement wage."

As the county prepares to report on nonprofits and the living wage ordinance May 21, with county management wanting until July 2003 to implement indexing, nonprofit workers like Allison Rogers* told Nüz they love their jobs but can't afford to continue them at current rates.

"To employers, we're college kids on our way to grad school, so it's OK if we get worn out and move on. But if they paid better, I'd consider this as a career," says Rogers, who earned $11/hour at a group home for 15 months, but is moving back to her parents' home in Southern California to save money.

"Such a high turnover rate is not good for the group home," says Rogers, who managed by living in an illegally zoned house. "Now the landlord is kicking us out, and I'm faced with rent that's half my monthly income. My program director agrees we should be making more, but says, 'This is what it means to be working for a small private nonprofit.' But is the money being allocated fairly? The front-line staff make the least, but bear the most responsibility."

Tell it to Isabella London,* who makes $14 an hour as a program director at the Volunteer Center, but has to use her credit card to make ends meet.

"I've worked for numerous nonprofits since graduating from UCSC nine years ago, and I'm in serious financial trouble. Our funding is precarious, and with the utility tax repealed it's gonna be even worse. We really need $17 minimum to survive. I'm lucky I have a fantastic landlord, who hasn't raised my rent in five years," London says.

Rogers and London's cases are classic arguments for wage indexing, argues union activist Nora Hochman, who chairs the Living Wage Coalition. "Wages need to keep pace with costs. If you're not unionized, this is your only vehicle," she says. "A single person using child-care needs $22 to $24."

Hochman calls the county's request to delay indexing is "unacceptable."

"Indexing comes at no cost to county government. Service vendors absorb the costs, which cuts their profits, but putting profits into a few pockets doesn't contribute to the economic vitality of this community, whereas workers having to use the ER or food stamps impacts public services."

She hopes the Supes will support improving low wage workers.

"They admit it's impossible to retain teachers, firefighters and police officers, most of whom do better than living wage workers, who repair vending machines, mow lawns, and trim trees."

Meanwhile, Volunteer Center Director Karen Delaney says her nonprofit would love to pay living wage, "but inflation is at 6 percent, while our grants are only at 2 percent. The repealed utility tax is going to leave us $150,000 out of budget. We don't want to balance books on the backs of workers, but I can't tell PG&E we're not paying the bill."

Delaney says proponents of the living wage argue that it isn't about money, "but if it isn't, then the county is going to have to help us pay. We have no profits, no assets to sell."

* Names changed to protect identities


The Board of Supes meets May 21, 9am, 5th Floor, 701 Ocean Street, Santa Cruz.


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From the May 15-22, 2002 issue of Metro Santa Cruz.

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