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It’s not Philanthropy, It’s Ideological and Class Warfare: How the DeVos Family Foundation contributions complement their political donations

October 27, 2016

In the early part of 2013, we set out to look at the role of foundations in West Michigan, particularly those that are connected to the wealthiest families in the area. 

During that investigation we relied on the 2009 – 2011 990 reports that all foundations and non-profits must submit, which provides information for the public. These public disclosures are meant to provide a certain amount of transparency, although there is still plenty that is hidden from plain sight.


We know a fair amount about the funding patterns of the wealthiest people in West Michigan as it relates to campaign financing, particularly that of the DeVos Family, which continues to be the largest contributor to political campaigns in Michigan and out of state. Last year we wrote a piece about how much money the DeVos Family had contributed in the 2013-2014 election cycle. Based on a report from the non-partisan group, the Michigan Campaign Finance Network, the DeVos Family outspent every other individual, family or entity on elections during that two year period in Michigan. In fact, Rich Robinson, then the director of the Michigan Campaign Finance Network said, The DeVos family doesn’t have a peer among individual donors, or as far as interest groups go.” 

More recently, we wrote two articles about the DeVos Family contributions in the current election cycle. On August 1, we wrote about their influencing of State races during a 56-day period this past summer. The DeVos Family was contributing $26,785 a day to influence the electoral outcome in November. The second article looked at the DeVos Family contributions to the 2nd and 3rd Congressional races. 

However, it is rare that the news media ever talks about the relationship between the DeVos Family’s buying of elections and their private funding through their foundations. More importantly, there is never really any investigation into how this one/two punch of monied influence serves essentially the same purpose.

In looking at the more recent 990 filing for the DeVos Family Foundations, we found that some of the largest recipients of their contributions complemented their political giving. For instance, in 2012, the Richard and Helen DeVos Foundation gave $100,000 to the Tampa Bay Host Committee, which was the organization behind the 2012 Republican Convention in Florida.

Other significant donations from the Richard and Helen DeVos Foundation were to pro-capitalist groups like the American Enterprise Institute ($500,000 for 2012/13)  the Acton Institute and the Heritage Foundation ($1 million).screen-shot-2016-10-27-at-2-57-25-am

Another significant political donation made through the Richard and Helen DeVos Foundation was $2,000,000 to Donors Trust Inc. “DonorsTrust is a not-for-profit company that distributes millions of dollars in grants each year to groups, organizations and projects that are “dedicated to the ideals of limited government, personal responsibility, and free enterprise,” according to an excellent article on Desmogblog.

In fact, the largest contributor between 2013 and 2014 was the DeVos Family, through their DeVos Leadership Initiative. (pictured here on the right)

The Richard and Helen DeVos Foundation has also been contributing significant amounts of money to most of the colleges and universities in West Michigan, like Calvin, Hope, GRCC, GVSU and MSU. These contributions, ranging from $1 million to $3 million a year clear are meant to influence school policy and curriculum.

However, the Richard and Helen DeVos Foundation has also provided large sums of money to universities outside of Michigan, particularly to private, faith-based schools like Kings College. In a two year period (2012-2013), the foundation gave King’s College $10.5 million dollars. The mission of, “King’s College seeks to transform society by preparing students for careers in which they help to shape and eventually to lead strategic public and private institutions.” Richard and Helen DeVos are also on the Board of Trustees for the College. 

One last way in which the Richard and Helen DeVos Foundation compliments their direct political giving is the money they donate to the Young America’s Foundation. Their mission reads:yafwallpaper_1024x768

Young America’s Foundation is committed to ensuring that increasing numbers of young Americans understand and are inspired by the ideas of individual freedom, a strong national defense, free enterprise, and traditional values.

As the principal outreach organization of the Conservative Movement, the Foundation introduces thousands of American youth to these principles. We accomplish our mission by providing essential conferences, seminars, educational materials, internships, and speakers to young people across the country.

YAF has a long history of countering progressive and radical organizing on campuses across the country and often brings anti-Islam and other proponents of White Supremacy speakers to campus.The Richard and Helen DeVos Foundation gave Young America’s Foundation $2 million in 2012.

These are just some of the organizations and entities that are recipients of the DeVos Family money, organizations and entities that have a long history of opposing LGBTQ liberation, unions, racial justice and an economic system based on cooperation and equity.

In the coming weeks, we will look at other DeVos Family Foundations and how their political contributions coincide with their ideological spending as well.

Rockford Construction and the Politics of Displacement

October 25, 2016

The current housing crisis is happening all across the globe, throughout the United States and particularly in Grand Rapids.screen-shot-2016-10-24-at-1-55-36-pm

People are faced with rising rental costs, a sky rocketing of the price tag for homes to buy, an increase in evictions and foreclosures are still a major issue in many cities.

People are feeling the effects if gentrification, which includes increase costs to live in a specific area, along with various forms of displacement. People are being displaced from their place of residence in two major ways. First, people are being displaced because of the cost of property taxes or the cost of rent has increased significantly in recent years and they can no longer afford it. People should not be paying more than 30% of their income on housing, yet the reality is that more and more people are paying 40, even 50% of their income on housing. This is particularly the case within communities of color, since those communities are experiencing higher rates of gentrification and because on average they make less than White people do in this society.

The second major factor in housing displacement is the physical destruction, the demolition of housing. In many cases, as gentrification spreads throughout neighborhoods, demolition of housing either precedes new development projects or follows development projects.screen-shot-2016-10-24-at-1-54-52-pm

A recent example of displacement through demolition occurred just off Michigan St. along Grand Avenue. Roughly 20 homes were demolished to make room for a new development project that will house 287 market rate housing units. People might think that this still results in a housing increase, but what we often fail to recognize is that the new housing will be for more upscale people, while those being displaced are primarily working class individuals and families.

A current example of homes that are slated for being demolished because of a new development project, is on the westside, near all the new construction that is mostly being implemented by Rockford Construction.

Rockford Construction was behind the new brewery on Bridge St, recently finished the new market rate housing project on Alabama Ave. (along with 616 Development) and is in the beginning stages of gentrifying the area along Bridge and Stocking NW.

The new market rate housing project on Alabama Ave. is most directly connected to the 10 houses currently slated for demolition, but all of their projects in that area certainly have a an impact on the 10 houses that will be torn down.

These houses on First St, Second St and Alabama Ave are all older housing stocking that has been home to working class families for decades. According to the Grand Rapids Planning Commission documents from October 13, there are no immediate plans for redevelopment of the 11 lots (10 house and one vacant lot), but there was lots of discussion about it and upscale housing appears to be imminent. One good guess is that those 11 lots may eventually be used for parking, since the new market rate housing that is on Alabama has limited parking available, although the documents showed that they were considering it to be green space. However, there was no clarity as to whether or not the existing trees would remain or not.

Rockford Construction began buying these houses in 2013 and the last year that any of those houses were certified as rental was in 2014.

The Grand Rapids Planning Commission documents also reveal that the John Ball Area Neighbors sent a letter stating they would not oppose the demolition of these 10 houses.screen-shot-2016-10-24-at-2-50-08-pm

Planning Commission staff Suzanne Schulz, “mentioned the properties were optioned long before Rockford became involved and they have fallen into disrepair over the years,” according to the Planning Commission document from October 13. Such a statement dismisses the reality that landlords often will purposefully allow property to fall into disrepair because they can then pocket more of the money they collect from rent.

Kurt Hassberger, Rockford Construction and Development, “noted that the properties were somewhat orphaned by the two expressways and separated from the neighborhood that it used to be a part of.” While this may be the case, it completely ignores how the highways built in Grand Rapids were a major cause of gentrification and displacement. 

In the Planning Commission documents there was also some discussion about the larger impact on the neighborhood, but in the end the Planning Commission voted unanimously to approve the demolition of 10 more houses on the westside by Rockford Construction.

Downtown Development Authority to expand its boundaries, capture more tax dollars and make more of Grand Rapids a play space for those with privilege

October 19, 2016


Last week, the Downtown Development Authority (DDA) voted to expand the boundaries of downtown Grand Rapids (as can be seen in this map on the right). This means that the DDA, a non-elected body will have more control over the use of taxes and development projects that primarily serve the interests of people who are highly privileged.

This decision was made at the last DDA meeting. The DDA meets on the second Wednesday of every month at 8:00am at City Hall.

The Downtown Development Authority was established in 1980, which is when the financial elites decided to re-invest in the downtown area, determining development projects and and how tax funds would be used. The original area of control in 1980 was a total of 46 acres. Since 1980 the DDA has expanded 15 times and if the City Commission approves the current expansion the will bring the total amount of acres the non-elected body will have control over to 873 acres

A more detailed look at the proposed expansion areas can be seen in the following 5 maps.






More details can be read in the DDA documents presented at their meeting last week. This document is entitled Development and Tax Increment Financing Plan for City of Grand Rapids Downtown Development Area No. 1 as Amended.

The document is worth reading in that it lays out numerous proposed budgetary plans for ongoing and new projects. For instance, the proposed budget for ongoing and future costs for parks, open space and cultural improvements is estimated to be $25 million. Streetscape improvements are estimate to be $120 million. The Downtown Market, which has already cost taxpayers millions and primarily benefits those with class and race privilege, gets $75,000 every year.


No doubt there are lots of people who will salute the DDA’s expansion plan and have no problem with their use of tax dollars that primarily benefit the capitalist class. However, think for a moment how the millions of dollars they are using and are proposing to increase, think about how that funding could be a re-investment in neighborhoods like the Black Hills area or the Baxter neighborhood. When I say re-investment I don’t mean more micro-breweries or boutique stores, I mean the re-investment in the people who have lived in those neighborhoods who are threaten by gentrification. With the kind of tax dollars the DDA is planning to capture and use for making downtown Grand Rapids a larger play area of the rich, imagine how that could be used to end homelessness, provide safe and affordable housing for the thousands of families that vulnerable to displacement. Imagine if those funds were used to fight food insecurity and to transform neighborhoods into centers of food production that are not market-based.


We continue to wonder why there is such inequity in Grand Rapids, inequity that disproportionately impacts communities of color. This is why the Movement for Black Lives is demanding an investment-divestment plan that would benefit the Black community. The Investment part would transform health care, education and other vital areas for the Black community. The Divestment part would mean that we no longer spend billions on prisons, police, government surveillance and militarism.

The likelihood that that the City of Grand Rapids will pass this proposal is very high, unless of course there is organized opposition. The City officials will make a decision on December 6.

When the Market Dictates Housing Policy: Grand Rapids Chamber of Commerce event advocates false solutions to current housing crisis

October 17, 2016

On Friday, I attended a gathering hosted by the Grand Rapids Chamber of Commerce focused on the issue of housing. The event was part of the Chamber’s ongoing Issue Summits.

The actual title for the event was, “Housing for a Growing City.” The title alone makes clear the purpose of the gathering, which was to talk about meeting the “growing demands” for housing in Grand Rapids. However, for the Chamber and many of those in attendance, “housing demands” translated into market rate housing.screen-shot-2016-10-16-at-11-41-33-pm

The event began with Kevin Elsenheimer, who is the head of Michigan State Housing Development Authority (MSHDA). Elsenheimer didn’t speak for very long and began by showing a clip of a video about the old Klingman building that has been turned into subsidized housing. It was interesting that the head of MSHDA began with this project, since much of what he discussed did not address the growing need for affordable housing. In fact, throughout the day, the presenters had a hard time naming it as affordable housing and kept using the phrase the missing middle.

It is worth noting that included on the board of MSHDA, is part of the West Michigan elite and a major property owner with CWD, Scott Wierda. Wierda married into the DeVos family. 

After Elsenheimer spoke, they brought up 5 panel members to further discuss housing issues in Grand Rapids. The panelists included Kurt Hassberger (Rockford Construction), Ryan VerWys (ICCF), Lamont Cole (Grand Rapids Urban League), Monica Steimle-App (616 Development and Gustavo Rotondaro (Métrica).

The Rockford Construction representative began the panel session by saying that they see both sides of the housing issue, even though he never clarified what he meant by this. He mostly talked about the the supply and demand aspect of housing and that “market rate housing is important.” Hassberger ended his comments by saying that they (Rockford) could not address the missing middle, since it is “not affordable to build.”

Another panelist was Ryan VerWys with ICCF. He talked about how ICCF helps people who fall through the cracks and he plugged the more recent project they are behind, which is the Tapestry Square Project in the Division/Wealthy St. area. VerWys did note that Rockford Construction does provide the majority of the construction work for their projects and that ICCF was waiting to hear about state subsidies that might result in ICCF run housing on the westside.

Another housing developer, Monica Steimle-App, with 616 Development, stated that what her company does is to create community and how her organization was looking forward to working with Downtown Grand Rapids Inc to attract more people to the area and to make sure that “housing is available to everyone.” This last statement seems to be in conflict with the practice of 616 Development, which has a growing track record of gentrifying neighborhoods.

The last panelist, Gustavo Rotondaro, provided some data showing that 52% of renters in Grand Rapids are spending more than 50% of their income on housing. He also gave data to show that the average White family makes just over double the amount of money that African Americans make.screen-shot-2016-10-16-at-11-42-10-pm

The data seemed to shake things up a bit and prompted some from the audience to ask more poignant questions.

One African American woman stated that she grew up in the area, had moved away and is now back living in Grand Rapids. She said that since she returned, many other black friends have said to her, “Why did you come back? There isn’t much here and we are faced with the same issues that the black community has always faced. She then said that people being forced out of neighborhoods through gentrification is wrong and asked  the panelists what they were going to do about it.

The guy with Rockford Construction said, “they haven’t caused this (gentrification) and don’t support it. He then defends landlords, who have “real costs” and that “they need to make a living.” Hassberger also stated that what Rockford Construction does borders on being philanthropic.

What was so problematic about this forum was that the so-called experts were mostly made up of people who made their profits or their salaries off of housing. In fact, the primary sponsors of the event were corporations notorious for making huge profits, including some local housing developers and real estate firms.

Another major problem with the forum is that those who spoke and made up most of the audience were people with tremendous professional, racial and economic privilege. These were not the people most impacted by the current housing crisis. In fact, many of them were responsible for perpetuating the current housing crisis.

Until people who are most impacted by the housing crisis are actually leading a movement to create housing justice, we will continue to rely on developers, politicians and non-profit agencies to make decisions and set policy that will not fundamentally change to socio-economic reality in West Michigan.

New Downtown Development Project to get tax breaks up to nearly $4.5 million

October 13, 2016

A new development project by Orion Real Estate Solutions was announced on Tuesday and will be located at 150 Ottawa NW in downtown Grand Rapids.

The $63.5 million development project will feature office space, some retail, parking for tenants and 123 one and two bedroom apartments at market rate. By market rate, they mean that the one and two bedroom apartments will run between $1,000 to $2,500 a month.


MLive reported, “The project developers are asking the DDA to approve a 15-year reimbursement of $3.7 million for expenses related to the costs of making the property barrier free and accessible.” However, documents submitted to the Grand Rapids Downtown Development Authority (DDA), showed that the amount of tax breaks the developer was looking for could be more.

“The Developer has agreed as a part of the Project to incur the costs of the Public Facility Improvements and has requested the DDA to reimburse it for such costs in an amount not to exceed $4,421,638 (the “Eligible Costs”) from tax increment revenues realized from the Project and available to the DDA for such use (the “Project Tax Increment Revenues”).” 

Imagine what nearly $4.5 million dollars could do if it were to be used to build or provide  affordable housing for working class individuals and families? Say one calculated that an average house was going for $100,000 in the city of Grand Rapids right now. Then take the $4.5 million and divide it by $100,000, you could divert that tax money to provide 45 homes for working class families.

Or one could look at what someone who makes $10 an hour in this city, which includes thousands of people. Working full time, that would result in an annual wage of $22,400. If we then took the standard 30% figure that people are supposed to spend on housing, that would mean that people making $22,400 a year would pay no more than $6,600 on housing costs. That translates into paying $550 a month for rent, which is damn near impossible to find right now in Grand Rapids.

However, if you were able to pay $550 a month for rent, that would mean that the $4.5 million in tax money being used for this new development project, could provide rent at $550 a month for 1 year, to 681 people. This is just from one development project. Imagine how much money could be raised for affordable housing just based on the amount of tax breaks provided to developers?


Don’t be fooled by the Corporate Culture in West Michigan

October 11, 2016

Corporate Capitalism is always trying to re-invent itself. This is mostly due to the fact that people don’t fundamentally trust corporations, and for good reason.

When one considers the harm that corporate capitalism has done to workers, communities and ecosystems over the past century, what has been left is an endless stream of corpses and destruction.

This is what makes the recent article on Rapid Growth Media so insidious. 


The article, entitled, “Civic minded companies,” attempts to make the claim that there are companies in West Michigan, “doing good things.”

The article makes this statement near the beginning:

If you were able to quantify the depth and breadth of community support provided by the private sector in West Michigan, it would be staggering. You would be hard-pressed to find an event or organization that hasn’t been sponsored, supported or funded by a local corporation.”

Such a statement could easily confuse readers by making the equation that sponsoring or funding a organization or event is somehow equated with creating justice. But this is the beauty of the growing trend by non-profits to seek out corporate support, because it provides an easy way for businesses to win PR points with the public, often resulting in not questioning the functioning and nature of such businesses.

The four companies that the Rapid Growth Media features in the article are; Butterball Farms, Steelcase, Rockford Construction and SpartanNash.

Butterball Farms and its is “enrich lives” philosophy is epitomized by by its CEO, Mark Peters. Peters and Butterball Farms works with The Source, a non-profit social service  entity that has a governing board made up entirely of local business representatives, which makes for a convenient way for these companies to recruit new workers. 

Butterball Farms also provides funding for the privately-run Christian School Potter’s House and several other entities like the American Cancer Society. The other major emphasis of the company is to hire people coming out of the prison industrial complex, what they refer to as “returning citizens.” While this seems noble on the part of Butterball, one has to ask the some of the following questions. First, what does the company do to address and prevent mass incarceration and the prison industrial complex? Second, what are the wages and benefits of entry-level workers who are hired by the company? My suspicion is that living wages are not paid, so the company gets to benefit from low wage workers who are desperate to find employment.

Local office furniture giant Steelcase was also featured in the Rapid Growth Media article. The spokesperson for the company primarily talked about donations the company makes through its foundation. The trustees of the Steelcase Foundation are made up of company family members and others who are well connected to the interlocking systems of power in West Michigan – the business, philanthropic, educational, non-profit and arts sectors. 

Steelcase has eliminate over 1,100 in 2001, followed by an additional 150 layoffs in 2002. In 2008, 300 more employees were “let go.” The amount of job loss has been staggering, not to mention that the company has a long history of opposing the unionization of its workers. However, these are not questions or observations raised by the article. Instead we are told about the wondrous work of restoring a Frank Lloyd Wright House in Heritage Hill. screen-shot-2016-06-01-at-3-07-42-am

The third company to be featured for all of its goodness, is ironically one of the major contributors to gentrification in Grand Rapids in recent years. We have written about Rockford’s practices in previous articles, such as the one that focused on an MLive story which talks about the benevolence of its CEO, Mike VanGessel or a more recent story about ongoing plans to expand gentrification and displace working class families and individuals from Grand Rapids westside. .

Lastly, it is worth noting that VanGessel has a close relationship with the Inner City Christian Federation (ICCF) and through that relationship led Rockford’s boss to the Rehoboth Christian School. Rehoboth Christian School was founded in 1903 as a Christian Ministry to Native American people in the Four Corners region. So let me get this straight, most of the land of the indigenous people in the Four Corners region has been stolen through the process of Settler Colonialism (which includes the churches) and VanGessel got involved in budget planning to improve the missionary schools in that area and we are supposed to celebrate this?

The fourth of four companies highlighted in the Rapid Growth Media article is SpartanNash. The article addresses the company’s numerous volunteers, donations and foundation giving, centered around charity work with entities like Goodwill, Degage and Guiding Light Ministries.


What is most offensive about SpartanNash, a company built on profiting from the unhealthy and destructive food system we have, claims to be committed to ending hunger.

In the end, these “civic minded” businesses are just the most recent manifestation of Robber Barons like Andrew Carnegie, who figured out over a century ago that you fool people by claiming to be a force for good, when in fact your fundamental existence in based on hierarchical structures that profit from exploitation and environmental destruction.

They don’t want our pity, but they do welcome our solidarity: Physician tells stories about Palestinians living under siege in Gaza

October 6, 2016


Dr. Mads Gilbert, author of the books, Eyes in Gaza and Night in Gaza, in which he describes what it was like to work under the bombs with Palestinian colleagues during Israel’s 2008 – 2009 and 2014 invasions of the Gaza Strip, spoke to an audience of about 200 people last night at Calvin College.

Dr. Gilbert provided an astute analysis of what was happening in Gaza, with the Israeli occupation and US complicity, but he did it through the powerful stories of Palestinian civilians the doctor has met while working in makeshift operating rooms throughout Gaza.

He showed pictures of many of the children wounded from Israeli bombs that have besieged Gaza over the last decade, but asked people not to record any of the images. “I did not ask the consent of the wounded to be able to distribute their images online, I only use them in this capacity to be able to tell their stories,” said the Norwegian doctor.

He began his talk with images of two Palestinian children wounded in July 2014 and how it is children who have primarily been wounded or killed during the most recent Israeli assaults on Gaza. However, the pictures were not meant to just shock the audience, they were also meant to demonstrate the incredible resiliency of Palestinians living under siege in Gaza.

The doctor occasionally uses images other than those of Palestinians, like this image of the maps, which demonstrates how Israel has historically occupied more and more of Palestinian land.


Dr. Gilbert then emphatically states, “It is not a difficult conflict, rather a difficult occupation.” He didn’t mince words and was quiet clear throughout his presentation on what was at stake. The Norwegian physician then stated that there are, “1.8 million Palestinians in Gaza, with 58% being 18 years old or younger.” After the last Israeli assault on Gaza in 2014, Israeli generals consider that 90% of those targeted were successful, which meant that children as targets were considered a “success.”

Occasionally the doctor included video clips of Israeli bombing, like a clip he showed of Gaza and Rafah being bombed in 2012. One video clip was from outside a Palestinian hospital, where you could see a constant influx of people coming in cars, ambulances and on foot as a result of the Israeli bombing. Dr. Gilbert said they were mostly trauma patients, with loss of limbs, internal wounds and severe burns. He then shows an image of a 10 year old Palestinian girl. An F-16 fighter plane had bombed her home, killing 3 and seriously wounding 5 others.2014814105456245734_20

The Norwegian doctor often talked about the real heroes being the Palestinian doctors and nurses who were not only able to save lives, but were able to do so under horrendous conditions. The Israeli siege of Gaza and the economic blockade means that basic and necessary medical supplies rarely get in, so physicians must operate on patients in makeshift ways, often using the light from cell phones.

At one point Dr. Gilbert showed an image of a Palestinian orderly, who had an infectious smile on his face and was tasked with cleaning up the operating rooms in just 6 – 8 minutes before the next patient was brought in.

Peppered throughout his presentation, Mads Gilbert kept reminding the audience by saying that all of this horror in Gaza was, “100% avoidable, that is was done by Israel and paid for by the US government.”

The Norwegian physician then implores those in the audience to look up a poem written and performed by the young Palestinian artist, Rafeef Ziadah. The poem is entitled, We Teach Life Sir.

Mads continues with images of Palestinian children he came in contact with   during surgery. He shows the picture of a 7 year old boy who had been hit by shrapnel………he died on the operating table. Another picture of a 14 year old boy, his right leg had been blown off from shrapnel, by what he believed was a new US developed weapon, loaded onto a drone. This 14 year old Palestinian boy also died on the operating table. In a laboring voice, Dr. Gilbert said the 2014 Israeli attack on Gaza were the worst he had seen during his many visits. He saw 400 patients in just one night during the assault on Gaza in 2014.

There was a brief moment of silence. Then the doctor proclaimed, “I am an unapologetic anti-Zionist and Gaza is a colonial project.” He continued by condemning the Israeli system of Apartheid and then offered up a quote from great South African leader Nelson Mandela.

Dr. Gilbert began doing this kind of work in 1982 in Beirut. He tells the story of a Palestinian boy who lost his arm from the bombing. This boy was badly wounded, traumatized, with no family, with nothing. A week later he met with the boy and was amazed at how he wanted Dr. Gilbert to teach him to  treat his own wounds. In addition, he said the boy would often sing songs and encouraged other patients in the hospital. “He is the symbol of resilience,” said the Norwegian physician. The arabic word he used was  sumud, which means steadfastness.

The doctor stated that, “There is a systemic Israeli attack on Gaza’s healthcare.” He showed a UN map of Israeli attacks on health care facilities in 2014, where 75 hospitals and clinics had either been damaged or destroyed. 

Dr. Gilbert then went on to state that in 2014, the United Nations had  created makeshift shelters that were mostly Palestinian schools. The Israelis were given the coordinates, but they bombed them anyway.

The Norwegian physician said that what is need and what he was attempting to do was to provide “evidence-based solidarity.” What he meant by that is that we need clear documentation of the horrors Israelis have committed against Palestinians, He said, we need to read reports and books and look at research that will compel us to engage in solidarity. Dr. Gilbert has been working on a research project on treating amputations, based on his work in Gaza. Some of the research was published in the British medical journal, The Lancet. Because of that report, Dr. Gilbert us now banned ever from going back to Gaza.gilbert2alray

Dr. Gilbert told one last story, the story of Samar. In 2009, she was 4 years old. Samar came into hospital during the 2009 Israeli assault on Gaza. What was surprising about her, was that she was so quiet. Eventually they found out that she had a severe wound in the back and that her spinal cord was damaged, which is why she was so quiet. Samar could not feel anything. After performing some initial surgery on her, Dr. Gilbert came back to check on her and at that point she was crying and saying, “mama, mama, mama.” Dr. Gilbert remembers asking one of the Palestinian doctors, “how can this go on?” The doctor replied very calmly, “we have no human rights.”

However, Samar’s story was far from over. A BBC reporter had found Samar’s father and told him she was in the hospital and was unable to walk. Samar is now living in Brussels with her family. Samar is in a wheelchair and will never be able to walk again. She is an excellent student and Dr. Gilbert said she is the face of Palestinian resiliency.bds

Dr. Gilbert ended his talk by offering up some ideas for ways that people can be in solidarity with Palestinians. First, he said that we cannot remain silent. The US just approved an increase in military aid to Israel. He then said we need to study and see who is profiting from this injustice. He suggested the online source More importantly, he encouraged people to join solidarity movements, like Students for Justice in Palestine or the international Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement (BDS).    

One of the co-sponsors of the event, Healing Children of Conflict, is engaged in a Grand Rapids-based BDS campaign. For those interested in joining contact them at