Pueblo Design
 La Jicarita

A community advocacy newspaper for northern New Mexico

Box 6 El Valle Route, Chamisal, NM 87521

Volume VII

March 2002

Number III


Current Issue




About Us




 Santa Barbara Rehabilitation Project: Show Us The Work By Mark Schiller


Working Toward 89,000 Acres of Common Ground on the Valles Caldera By Ernie Atencio

Is the Fight for San Luis Valley Water Finally Over? By Kay Matthews

Editorial: Justice in the Middle East By Kay Matthews

Santa Barbara Rehabilitation Project: Show Us The Work

By Mark Schiller

Editor's Note: This editorial paints a pretty bleak picture of this project and the two government agencies involved. I'd like to make it clear that this is my opinion based on what I think is a comprehensive overview of the project history. It does not necessarily represent the views of the other shareholders in the project. Additionally, while this editorial faults both the New Mexico Environment Department and the Forest Service for the project's lack of success, there have been several people in both agencies who, in my opinion, made a real effort to get the work done. These include Abe Franklin of NMED and Steve Miranda and Henry Lopez of the Camino Real Ranger District.

The Rio Embudo Water Quality Improvement Project, which evolved into the Santa Barbara Grazing Allotment Rehabilitation Project, has a long and troubled history. It dates back to 1994 when the New Mexico Environment Department (NMED) identified the Rio Pueblo/Rio Embudo Watershed as a candidate for state and federal Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) funds to remediate water quality degradation in the watershed due to non point source pollution. (Non point source pollution is defined as pollution whose source is not one specific point. Water turbidity caused by stream bank erosion is an example of non point source pollution.) Since that time the project has undergone many changes in direction and personnel, but like so many other projects the state and federal government have initiated in northern New Mexico, a substantial amount of money has been spent but very little has actually been accomplished on-the-ground. This project is, I think, fairly typical of the way state and federal agencies use public welfare projects to line their own pockets and and generate favorable publicity but don't actually hold themselves accountable for meeting project goals. Let's take a look at the record.

In 1994, in an effort to gain community support for an EPA grant proposal, NMED convened a series of meetings in Dixon to discuss community concerns about water quality and quantity, vegetation/ wildlife/ riparian issues, recreation issues, and quality of life issues in the upper (Peñasco area) and lower (Dixon area) watershed. These meetings were well attended and the community voiced its concerns about water quality degradation and demonstrated its support for a project that would address the issue. Using that support as leverage (the July 1996 Project Plan stated "A citizen's group is forming in Dixon N.M. and is working to improve water quality within the watershed. They are interested and willing to provide in-kind labor for installing BMPs [best management practices] [but] have limited funds available.") the NMED was granted $290,911 by the EPA and $106,522 by the state for a total of $397,433.

Imagine what a shock it was for the members of the citizens group when, in the fall of 1996, they received the project budget and found that of this nearly $400,000 only $145,000 was actually ear-marked to hit the ground. The remaining $252,433 went directly into the pocket of NMED for staff and equipment, which included a new pick up truck, computer, software, etc. Curiously, the budget listed a "Public Outreach" category but allocated zero dollars for it. The citizens group felt that its participation had been essential in securing the money but that its input had not been solicited with regard to how it would be spent.

By this time the initial NMED project officer had left the agency, ostensibly because of an internal conflict, but as he told me in a phone conversation, because he had blown the whistle on one of NMED's bureau chiefs for not actually having the qualifications he claimed in his resume. The new project officer attempted to placate the outraged citizens' group by telling them on three separate occasions that the Acting Program Manager for the Non Point Source Pollution Section would attend a local meeting to explain the budget and answer all questions. The Acting Program Manager who subsequently became head of NMED's Surface Water Bureau, however, failed to show up on all three occasions and as a result, local involvement in the project fell off dramatically.

Interestingly, in the July 1996 Project Plan under "Measures of Success" the most important criteria read: "Measures of success will be determined by the increase in public participation during the formulation of the watershed implementation plan. The more citizens living in and around the watershed we can involve in this process, the better chance this effort has to extend beyond the duration of this particular project." The remaining members of the citizens group continued to demand accountability from NMED by calling and writing the head of the Surface Water Bureau and the Secretary of the Environment Department, who on December 15, 1997 wrote: "We remain ready and willing to meet with you at any time." No such meeting ever occurred and no accounting was made. Members of the group did learn through their persistence, however, that the percentage of the Rio Embudo grant allocated for on-the-ground work (approximately 36%) was high by comparison to other such grants the NMED had obtained from the EPA.

The citizens group, which had originally consisted of approximately 50 people, was by this time reduced to 5 members who were determined to see that the $145,000 was put to good use. At this point a number of options were discussed with the project officer and the group decided to look into the possibility of building a "constructed wetlands" to help remediate water pollution from the growing number of septic systems leaching into the watershed alluvium. The wetlands project once again stirred up interest among community members who realized they needed a low cost, low-tech means of addressing this issue. They were also pleased by the idea that a wetlands could serve as an outdoor classroom for local schools to study riparian ecology. As a result, about 25 community members attended a field trip to the Santa Fe Opera's constructed wetlands and subsequently participated in efforts to get the wetlands project implemented.

Once again, however, they ran into a wall of bureaucracy. After six months of information gathering and planning, the NMED project officer informed the group that seepage from septic systems was considered "point source pollution" and the money could not be used for that purpose. Community members, of course, wondered why the project officer hadn't run this concern by the Manager for Non Point Source Pollution when the project was initially being considered rather than six months after the fact. Any trust which had been established between the community and NMED was completely eroded at this point and community participation ceased all together.

Then, in June of 1998 the Santa Barbara Grazing Association, in conjunction with the Rio Pueblo/Rio Embudo Watershed Protection Coalition, the Quivira Coalition, and the Camino Real Ranger District of the Forest Service, put together a workshop to explore how economically viable ranching and ecologically healthy range land could coexist. Over 100 people, including representatives from The Conservation Fund, the Sierra Club, BLM, the Audubon Society, Amigos Bravos, the Green Party, and Taos Soil and Water, attended and participated in a dialogue to establish common goals. As a result of the overwhelming success of this workshop, the Santa Barbara permitees, in conjunction with several of the participating groups, agreed to initiate an on-the-ground project that could graphically demonstrate their point.

A series of meetings was held at the Peñasco Ranger Station and project partners discussed how densely overgrown the Santa Barbara Allotment had become because of fire suppression. Everyone agreed that opening up parts of the allotment by thinning and prescribed burning could improve the overall ecological health of the area and provide more forage for wildlife and domestic animals and cleaner, more abundant water in the watershed. This last outcome, "cleaner, more abundant water," rang a bell for several of the participants who had previously worked with NMED on the non point source pollution remediation project. They called the NMED project officer, explained the new proposal, and asked if some of that money could be applied to the Santa Barbara project to remediate non point source pollution caused by soil erosion in the upper watershed. The project officer, who by this time was desperately searching for a way to salvage the project, jumped at the opportunity to shift responsibility for implementing a project to the Forest Service. He set up a meeting with the district ranger and the range management officer, determined that the Santa Barbara Project would meet the non point source criteria, and began writing a new work plan. Disillusioned by the bureaucracy and incompetence at NMED, he left that agency shortly after setting up the partnership with the Forest Service. At that point, in 1998, the project was on its third project officer. There would be four NMED project officers before the funding was finally terminated in 2001. The issue of agency staff turnover both at NMED and the Forest Service became more and more critical as the project wore on and definitely contributed to the dysfunctional way the project progressed, or more accurately, failed to.

In 1998 the new project partners included the NMED, the Forest Service, The Santa Barbara Grazing Association, The Rio Pueblo/Rio Embudo Watershed Protection Coalition, The Conservation Fund and the Quivira Coalition. They were allocated $107,850 from the $145,000 NMED had budgeted for on-the-the ground projects from the $397,433 that was originally granted for the project. In 1998 the Santa Barbara Grazing Association agreed to move all cattle from the allotment to The Conservation Fund's Grassbank on Rowe Mesa for a period of 2-3 years while, they were told, Forest Service crews, private contractors, and community members would thin and/or burn 3000 acres within the allotment. The original proposal the Forest Service sent The Conservation Fund Grass Bank in 1999 called for 600 acres of thinning and 1200 acres of prescribed burning in 1999 alone. However, an October 26, 1999 amended version of the project plan stated that only 800 acres would be treated over the three year period 1999-2001. The reason given for this drastic turnaround was financial constraints. This would have been a legitimate excuse if the budget had been reduced between 1998 and October of 1999, but it hadn't. If most of this work couldn't be done with the money that was budgeted, why didn't the Forest Service realize that in 1998? Furthermore, except for NMED and the Forest Service, who amended the work plan, permitees and other shareholders were never notified of this change. They found out by requesting a copy of the amended project plan from the NMED. Most importantly, however, this change in scope raised a question critical to permitees: Would enough area be treated within the prescribed period to sustainably maintain the number of permits currently allocated to the allotment? Since permitees based their decision to move their cattle to the grass bank on Rowe Mesa (a decision involving considerable work, inconvenience, and expense) on work estimates four times higher than what was projected in the amended work plan, this was a very disturbing turn of events.

At this point, the entire administrative staff of the Camino Real Ranger District turned over including the district ranger, the range management officer, and the wildlife biologist, who had all been instrumental in planning the project. The outgoing staff insisted that this project would continue to be a top priority and that continuity would be maintained. Project partners learned almost immediately after the staff turnover that these claims were hollow. In fact they were stunned by the revelation that an Environmental Assessment (EA), which would take at least one more year to complete, was necessary in order for the majority of the work to proceed. The new Forest Service staff tried to put an optimistic spin on things by claiming almost 400 acres within the allotment were immediately available for work under Categorical Exclusions (a category of environmental assessment of projects that have minimal impacts and are not subject to appeal) that had already been completed. Some of those areas, however, turned out to be very rocky and dry so that even after they were treated they were incapable of much forage production. (Osha Canyon, on the other hand, which permitees have consistently identified as an area which could provide abundant forage and which the Forest Service specifically targeted in their 1999 proposal to the Grass Bank, has not been touched.) Moreover, the Forest Service was very slow to implement the projected thinning and burning, so slow that the Forest Service and NMED had to apply for several extensions of the EPA funding. These were granted, but the Forest Service still did not get the work done and by mid-summer of 2001, when the final extension expired, only $69,661 of the $107,850 allotted for this project had been spent. $38,188 of the original $145,000 grant that community members had hoped to spend effectively was never used and completely lost to the project. The final accounting also included $31,168 distributed to the Bureau of Land Management to thin and burn approximately 140 acres of piñon-juniper in the Copper Hill area of the watershed, which was completed by 2001, and $5,900 to the Peñasco and Dixon schools to purchase environmental education materials.

But this tale of woe doesn't end there. In October of 2001 the EA had been completed without appeal and the Forest Service finally had clearance to complete the project. At that point, after three years of moving the entire Santa Barbara herd (202 cows) to the Rowe Mesa Grassbank, the Forest Service had thinned only 383 acres and burned only 150 acres. The mild early fall weather conditions provided a perfect window of opportunity for the Forest Service to burn the additional 233 acres that had already been thinned and at least begin thinning some of the new areas. They, however, failed to accomplish anything.

Then, to add insult to injury, on November 15, 2001, the district ranger mailed an update to some of the permitees outlining what had been done and stating that the Forest Service would develop a fire use plan (they'd already had three years to do so) and that 800-900 additional acres would be thinned over "the next five years." The permitees and other shareholders wondered what had become of the 1998 proposal to thin and burn 3,000 acres and the 1999 proposal to thin and burn 800 acres by the end of 2001.

Ironically, the Forest Service has repeatedly used this project to demonstrate that they are implementing a new more "democratic" form of management that does away with the old authoritarian paradigm and emphasizes public participation based on partnerships. After four years of broken promises shareholders are beginning to doubt their sincerity. If the Forest Service and public regulatory agencies like NMED really want the public's confidence and support they better start standing by their words instead of making a lot of empty promises and hoping no one looks too closely at the results.


• The Quivira Coalition is sponsoring a three-day, hands-on herding clinic from April 29-May 1, 2002 at Ghost Ranch, near Abiquiu. The clinic will emphasize the techniques of "low-stress" livestock handling. Participants will get one-on-one training with cattle with the goal of planning for a successful herding operation. Instructors are Tim McGaffic, Steve Allen, and Guy Glosson, who each have many years of experience handling livestock in a low-stress manner. The cost of the conference is $300, which includes room and board at Ghost Ranch and Burt Smith's textbook Moving 'Em. The clinic is limited to 30 people, so sign up soon by calling the Quivira Coalition at 505 820-2544.

• EcoVersity, Sustainable Living/Earth-Based Learning of Santa Fe is accepting registration for spring classes in March. EcoVersity provides hands-on learning for a full range of sustainable systems designed specifically for the climate and conditions of northern New Mexico. The 13-acre campus is located at 2639 Agua Fria Road, 87505, the phone number is 505 424-9797, and e-mail address info@ecoversity.org. This spring's offerings also include workshops on Backyard Composting and Worm Farming; Backyard Beekeeping with Top Bar Hives; and Backyard Chicken and Egg Production - Which Comes First? You may also register online at:



Job Alert!

Cattle Herder Wanted!

The Santa Barbara Grazing Association is looking for a full-time livestock herder to run approximately 100 head of cattle for four months this summer in the mountains above Peñasco, New Mexico (halfway between Santa Fe and Taos).

Terms are flexible, but the basic pay will be approximately $6000 for the whole period (more if the herder can provide his or her own stock and camp equipment). Experience with cattle herding, especially low-stress livestock handling, is preferred, but not required. Willingness to ride rough, but spectacular, country (8,000-12,000 feet) on a regular basis is a must, however. Money is secure. Training, if necessary, can be provided.

To apply, send a resume or a letter detailing your qualifications and work experience to the Quivira Coalition at: 551 Cordova Rd. #423, Santa Fe, NM 87505. Or call us at (505) 820-2544. Application period closes April 1, 2002. All resumes and letters will be sent to the Santa Barbara Grazing Association for final selection.

Take advantage of this special opportunity to work outdoors in the beautiful mountains of northern New Mexico!



Working Toward 89,000 Acres of Common Ground on the Valles Caldera

By Ernie Atencio

A unusual opportunity has drawn together an unusual alliance from across the environmental spectrum. The Valles Caldera Coalition is a broad-based collective of organizations and individuals advocating ecologically sound and sustainable stewardship of the Valles Caldera National Preserve. The diversity within the Coalition stretches so broadly as to be nearly unwieldy at times, but in that diversity also lies its strength. Members are usually willing to set aside blanket political and philosophical positions to work together toward the best possible management of 89,000 acres of some of the most beautiful and ecologically productive land in the region. Not always easy, but still worth the effort.

The original group came together in 1997 as the Baca Coalition, at first just to advocate for federal purchase of the Baca Ranch in the Jemez Mountains above Los Alamos. The Coalition also supported Santa Clara Pueblo's acquisition of about 5,000 acres of the ranch in the upper reaches of the Santa Clara watershed. Then began debate over the status of this new piece of the pubic domain. Would it be just another tract of U.S. Forest Service land, a National Park, some other specially protected landscape? And not everyone was satisfied with the final product. That the Preserve is supposed to eventually become financially self-sustaining has been a particularly thorny issue.

According to the July 2000 Valles Caldera Preservation Act, the purposes of the Preserve are "to protect and preserve for future generations the scientific, scenic, historic, and natural values of the Baca ranch, including rivers and ecosystems and archaeological, geological, and cultural resources; to provide opportunities for public recreation; to establish a demonstration area for an experimental management regime adapted to this unique property which incorporates elements of public and private administration in order to promote long term financial sustainability consistent with the other purposes enumerated in this subsection; and to provide for sustained yield management of Baca ranch for timber production and domesticated livestock grazing insofar as is consistent with the other purposes stated herein." The broad contours of this mandate offer unprecedented potentials for a new model of public lands management, but just as many pitfalls if it's not carefully implemented.

The preserve is managed by a nine-member Board of Trustees who bring a range of expertise to the process. Once the Board assumes management of the Preserve from the Santa Fe National Forest (maybe by the time this is printed), it has two years to develop and implement a comprehensive program to accomplish all the management objectives described in the legislation. The most important decisions that will set the tone and template for long-term management will be made during this period - the public participation process to develop a grazing program is already underway - and this is the time interested members of the public should be involved. This Board of Trustees is a progressive, conservation-minded, creative group, but the configuration will change next January when the Bush administration appoints three new Trustees. Another four cycle out in January 2005.

The Board also has about 13 years to become financially self-sustaining, but the sky won't fall if it doesn't reach that goal. The Trust might eventually be extended or terminated, the Preserve might revert back to the Santa Fe National Forest, but in the meantime we hope it firmly establishes a progressive new management model for public lands, here and everywhere. To that end, the Valles Caldera Coalition supports a science-based adaptive management program for all activities and resource use on the Preserve, in which ecosystem health, including healthy watersheds, streams, grasslands, forests and wildlife, is the guiding principle in all management decisions. If done right, sustainable livestock grazing and small-diameter timber thinning - a working landscape - along with recreation, hunting, and other public access, are not incompatible with that goal.

Current Coalition members include Amigos Bravos-Friends of the Wild Rivers, Audubon-New Mexico, Defenders of Wildlife, National Parks Conservation Association, The Nature Conservancy, New Mexico Audubon Council, New Mexico Wilderness Alliance, Pajarito Environmental Education Center, The Quivira Coalition, Rocky Mountain Youth Corps, Santa Fe Winter Sports Alliance, Sierra Club-Rio Grande Chapter and Pajarito Group, Trout Unlimited-Truchas Chapter, Wild Turkey Federation-Albuquerque Chapter, The Wilderness Society, The Wildlife Society-New Mexico Chapter and individuals with interest and expertise in everything from wildlife biology and cultural resources to forestry and ranching (including the publishers of this newspaper). We also informally stay in touch with land-based community interests and local tribes.

One Coalition member recently said that a true coalition is always right on the edge of total collapse: There is a constant tension in trying to incorporate a broad diversity of values, opinions and perspectives. It's a different approach to environmental advocacy to match a new model of public lands management. A slower and rougher road, for sure, but we'll probably all end up in a better place at the end of it.

For more information about the Coalition, contact Ernie Atencio, Coordinator, Valles Caldera Coalition, PO Box 9314, Santa Fe, NM 87504; (505) 776-1882; atencio@vallescalderacoalition.org; or contact any of the member organizations

Is the Fight for San Luis Valley Water Finally Over?

By Kay Matthews

The Nature Conservancy issued a press release at the end of January announcing that it has signed an agreement to purchase the approximately 97,000-acre Baca Ranch which borders the Great Sand Dunes National Monument and Preserve in the San Luis Valley of Colorado. This is not to be confused with the Baca Location, which was purchased in 2000 as the Valles Caldera National Preserve in New Mexico (see page 3). The Nature Conservancy managed to sign a purchase agreement for $31.28 million (the Valles Caldera, at 89,000 acres in size, cost $101 million dollars).

La Jicarita News has followed the long and complicated history of the Baca Ranch and the efforts to acquire the private ranch - and the accompanying water rights - from its corporate owners over the course of the last several years. One of the corporate owners, the flamboyant Gary Boyce, made headlines a few years ago by threatening to sell the ranch's vast underground water rights to urban areas on the Front Range. A similar scheme had been concocted in the 1980s by the former owner of the ranch, American Water Development, Inc. (AWDI), and was vigorously challenged by a coalition of San Luis Valley citizens and county governments, including the Rio Grande Water Conservancy District. They fought Boyce's plan as well, but this time around the politicians joined in the battle with a proposal to purchase the ranch and attach part of it to the existing San Dunes National Monument to create a national park. They plan to attach another part to the Rio Grande National Forest and create a new national wildlife refuge. The Nature Conservancy stepped in as the purchase negotiator, and Colorado's congressional delegation of Senators Wayne Allard, Ben Nighthorse, and Representative Scott McInnis were able to secure a $10.2 million appropriation from the federal Land and Water Conservation Fund. The rest of the money will come from a $7 million low-interest loan from the Packard Foundation, a $5 million partial purchase by the Colorado State Land Board, a $3 million loan from the Great Outdoors Colorado Trust Fund, and private fundraising by The Nature Conservancy. At the last minute, when the news broke that Yale University was one of the investors in the partnership that currently owns the ranch and would profit from its sale, various politicians applied pressure and the University donated its percentage of the sale price towards purchase of the ranch. More money will have to be raised to pay off the loans, and a "complex set of transactions" will have to completed before the ranch actually becomes part of the new national park, targeted for 2005.

The press release also stated: "Completion of the sale is contingent upon the resolution of outstanding litigation involving the current owners." Curious to know if this litigation involves Gary Boyce, La Jicarita contacted a representative of the Nature Conservancy, who explained that the litigation doesn't involve Boyce but some of the other investors. Ownership of the ranch is complicated. A corporation called Cabeza de Vaca bought the ranch from AWDI, and is made up of several different entities, one of which is Baca Partners. Gary Boyce, through his Stockman's Water Company, is affiliated with Baca Partners. Apparently it is AWDI and another investor, Peter Hornick, who are involved in the current litigation. AWDI claims it retained its right to a percentage of royalties from the sale of water on the ranch, and Hornick claims a percentage of the sale proceeds as well. La Jicarita was also told that the Nature Conservancy's purchase agreement expires in 2003 and the litigation must be resolved and the sale completed by then.

In several previous articles La Jicarita also discussed whether purchase of the ranch by the federal government will indeed secure the water rights from transfer. When Boyce was thwarted in his attempts to sell water to the front range, he filed a lawsuit against the Closed Basin Project, which delivers water to New Mexico to meet Rio Grande Compact requirements, so that he could sell ranch water to meet Compact needs. He also talked about selling water to New Mexico to meet federal environmental law requirements. Ed Quillen, publisher of the Salida-based Colorado Central magazine, believes that there will continue to be pressure to use the water to meet federal needs, such as instream flow for the Endangered Species Act or the growing population needs of downstream urban areas. But according to the Nature Conservancy, the law creating the new national park includes language that ensures that if the Baca Ranch is acquired, "all water rights and water resources associated with the Luis Maria Baca Grant No. 4 shall be restricted for use only within the national park; the preserve; the national wildlife refuge; or the immediately surrounding areas of Alamosa or Saguache Counties, Colorado." The bill also states that the water rights and water resources "shall be restricted for use in the protection of resources and values for the national monument, the national park, the preserve, or the wildlife refuge; fish and wildlife management and protection; or irrigation necessary to protect water resources. If, and to the extent that, water rights associated with the Luis Maria Baca Grant No. 4 are acquired, the use of those water rights shall be changed only in accordance with the laws of the State of Colorado."

Editorial: Justice in the Middle East

By Kay Matthews

The editors of La Jicarita were criticized in a letter we received from a reader of our October 2001 issue for printing Ike DeVargas' statement comparing the situation of the Palestinian people and the Spanish-speaking and Native American people of northern New Mexico. The letter came from an American Jewish activist in Santa Fe who complained that this position "alienate [s] American Jews and other supporters of Israel who have fought for progressive social change and the oppressed in our country." As fellow American Jews who fight for progressive social change in this country, we have to agree with DeVargas in his analysis of the the Palestinian-Israeli conflict and his criticism of American foreign policy. The Indo-Hispano community lives with the legacy of its own colonization by a government that abrogated the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo and dispossessed people from their land. It's important for norteños to be aware of the connection between their struggles to regain possession of their land and those of other indigenous people throughout the world. Unfortunately, there are many people who continue to put their own spin on the history of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict in order to promote an agenda that disconnects it from the progressive movement in this country that seeks a just and equitable settlement in the Middle East.

Peace Action New Mexico recently sponsored a talk by Kathy and Bill Christison that brought the progressive community in Taos together to discuss U.S. foreign policy. The Christisons, described as retired CIA analysts in their many presentations in Santa Fe since the September 11 attacks, also have been criticized for their critique of the underlying causes of the attacks and for their analysis of the Palestinian-Israel conflict in the Middle East. At the talk in Taos, one of the members of the audience asked them how two former CIA employees came to be critical of U.S. foreign policy. It was a question I had been wanting to ask since I'd first read about them. They made the distinction between CIA "analysts", what they were, and CIA "operators", what most of us think of as the James Bond types traveling all over the world spying and meddling in the internal affairs of other countries. According to the Christisons, many of the people employed as analysts by the CIA in the 1970s, during their tenure, were basically liberals who opposed U.S. intervention in Vietnam. How they rationalized their involvement with the CIA I don't know, but the Christisons left the organization in 1978 and moved to Santa Fe, where they began to take a closer look at U.S. foreign policy, particularly with regard to the Middle East. Kathy Christison has written two books on Palestine, her newest one called Perceptions of Palestine.

The focus of her talk to the capacity crowd in Taos was about the distorted perceptions that most Americans have of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, fueled by biased reporting that focuses almost exclusively on Israel and its concerns. Christison was generous in her inclusion of American policy makers as victims of this distorted perception or blindness to the Israeli occupation of Palestine, which she called the "fundamental cause of today's problem." I would assign culpability to these policy makers rather than blindness, for the same reasons they are blamed for their support of corrupt and oppressive governments in Arab countries in the Middle East: Our dependency on Middle Eastern oil and our need for a strong presence there.

Christison explained how this skewed American perception of the conflict has been perpetuated by propaganda and a distorted reading of history. Recently Israeli supporters have been blaming Palestinian Arabs for the current conflict and breakdown of peace negotiations by claiming they missed their opportunity for statehood back in 1947 when the United Nations partitioned Palestine into a Jewish and a Palestinian Arab state. They claim the Arabs rejected the offer and instead went to war and lost. But Christison pointed out that supporters fail to tell the rest of the story. Palestinians rejected the offer because the Zionist leadership at the time (the future leaders of Israel) colluded with the king of Jordan, neither of whom wanted an independent Palestinian state lying between them, to ensure that the area would end up under Jordan's control. Subsequently, three-quarters of a million Palestinian refugees fled or were expelled from Israel.

Christison went on to say that since the 1967 war, when Israel occupied the Palestinian territories of the West Bank, Gaza, and East Jerusalem, the U.S. has supported that occupation. Even after the 1988 peace accord in Oslo, when the Palestinian Authority was recognized as the governing body of Palestine and was prepared to relinquish 78% of Palestine to the formation of two states, Israel and the U.S. intensified a campaign to vilify the Palestinians in numerous ways. They accused the Palestinians of refusing to acknowledge the state of Israel and "castigate Yasir Arafat and the Palestinians in general for not constantly saying they want to live in peace alongside Israel - when in fact Arafat and the Palestinian leadership do frequently reiterate their support for a two-state solution . . . ." Christison pointed out that it is the current Israeli leadership, under Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, that has "never supported the peace process and is opposed to relinquishing Israeli control of the occupied territories."

Israel is portrayed in the U.S. as the victim, with a need for secure borders. Christison pointed out that it is Palestine that is occupied, not Israel, and it is Palestine that suffers the greater number of deaths and injuries in the current intifada, that it is their land that continues to be confiscated, it is their homes that are being demolished, their freedom of movement that is restricted with roadblocks and security checks, and their access to water that is restricted.

Israel and its supporters also distorted the events at the Camp David peace talks in 2000 to put Palestine in a bad light. Arafat is accused of refusing to accept a "breathtakingly generous offer" to end the occupation, which in reality would have broken up the Palestinian state into four separate, non-contiguous sections, including Gaza, each completely surrounded by Israeli territory. As Christison said, this agreement would have made Palestine "a colony, not a state - with no real independence, no ability to defend itself, no control over its borders, no control over its water resources, no easy way even for its citizens to move from one section to another, and a capital made up of separate neighborhoods not contiguous to each other or to the rest of the state.

Christison ended her speech with these words: ". . . the cycle of violence will only end when Israel's occupation ends - and when U.S. policy makers recognize the occupation as the source of the problem."


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