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MON: Palestinians and allies in NM renew calls for ceasefire in Gaza, + More

Civil rights attorney, author and founding member of Santa Feans for Justice in Palestine Jeff Haas speaks during a rally calling for an immediate ceasefire in Gaza at the Santa Fe Railyard on Nov. 11, 2023.
Austin Fisher
Source NM
Civil rights attorney, author and founding member of Santa Feans for Justice in Palestine Jeff Haas speaks during a rally calling for an immediate ceasefire in Gaza at the Santa Fe Railyard on Nov. 11, 2023.

Palestinians and allies in N.M. renew calls for ceasefire in Gaza - By Austin Fisher, Source New Mexico

Each morning for the last five weeks, Sarah AlQirem has opened WhatsApp on her phone and waited.

She’s waiting and hoping to see someone in her family’s group chat marked as active, open or typing.

“It hasn’t happened for the last 33 days,” said AlQirem, a 16-year-old Palestinian from Gaza and a student at United World College in Montezuma, N.M.

She was speaking alongside other Palestinians and their allies during a rally and march in Santa Fe on Saturday organized by the Santa Fe chapter of the Democratic Socialists of America and Santa Feans for Justice in Palestine, to renew calls for an immediate ceasefire in the occupied Palestinian territories, and an end to the Israeli military occupation.

Her baby cousin, their mother and father were the first family members AlQirem learned had been killed by Israel’s recent airstrikes on Gaza.

“The child whose diapers I changed — and the people who changed my own diapers — dead, gone, buried,” she said.

Then the rest of her family in Gaza went radio silent and she stopped getting news from loved ones. She said they either made it out and can’t contact her, or they’re all dead.

On Oct. 15, AlQirem woke up to an Instagram story announcing her best friend’s death.

“How do you think it feels to wake up and see your people murdered on social media?” she asked. “The message that the media is sending to me is that I am worth less because I am Palestinian.”

Then on Oct. 23, she received the news that all 58 members of her family in the village where she grew up “were bombed, killed, slaughtered.”

“I have lost almost my entire bloodline,” AlQirem said. “I am one of the last people remaining. The only people I have left in Gaza were the closest friends that I had grown up with.”

Source NM could not independently verify her account.

New Mexicans have organized at least 14 other protests and actions calling for an immediate ceasefire since the Hamas attacks on Oct. 7:

  • Protests outside the University of New Mexico bookstore on Oct. 8 and Oct. 13.
  • Protests outside the offices of members of Congress in Santa Fe and inside senators’ Albuquerque field offices on Oct. 23.
  • YUCCA unfurled a 130-foot-long banner listing the dead on Nov. 1 outside the offices of members of Congress in Santa Fe. At that time, the count was more than 8,500 killed, but that number has since risen to more than 10,000. That figure is likely an undercount, according to a top U.S. State Department official.
  • A march in Albuquerque on Oct. 28.
  • A protest at the Santa Fe Indigenous Center on Nov. 3.
  • A phone zap to pressure New Mexico’s Congressional delegation on Nov. 3.
  • A protest and march at Robinson Park in Albuquerque on Nov. 6.
  • UNM students, staff, and faculty walked out of their classrooms and offices on Nov. 9.
  • UNM School of Law students signed a letter calling for a ceasefire on Nov. 9.
  • UNM Health Sciences Center students gathered in Albuquerque on Nov. 10.
  • A protest at the Taos Farmers Market on Nov. 11.
  • A protest at Robinson Park in Albuquerque on Nov. 12

Israel controls all entrances and exits to the West Bank, according to B’Tselem, the Israeli Information Center for Human Rights in the Occupied Territories.

Another Palestinian student at United World College, who asked to be identified by his initials, A.A., listed three members of his family who have been killed during his lifetime by the Israeli occupation of the West Bank.

The 17-year-old described the occupation and how Israeli checkpoints impacted his daily life.

For instance, his hometown of Bethlehem is less than 14 miles away from Ramallah, but due to multiple checkpoints controlled by the Israeli military, the trip took seven hours. He needed to visit Ramallah for an interview to study in New Mexico.

Most recently on Nov. 10, an Israeli sniper killed A.A.’s former classmate at Bethlehem High School, 17-year-old Mohammad Ali Mohammad Azya. Israeli forces prevented an ambulance from reaching Mohammad and prevented his father from driving him to a hospital, according to Defense for Children International.

“I can remember, in every single class, how smart he was — how he would help me with math problems,” A.A. said of Mohammad.


Natasha Durel, an ally and activist with Palestinian roots, recently heard a crack in her mother’s voice that awakened in her a pain of familiar violence.

Durel has friends in Gaza, and she said her grandmother and grandfather were expelled from Bethlehem and the West Bank during the expulsion of more than 750,000 Palestinians from what became Israel in 1948.

Palestinians refer to this expulsion using the Arabic term Nakba, meaning “catastrophe.”

“This deep, deep pain of familiar violence has rudely awakened in many of our bloodlines from a slumber to which we still can’t find peace,” said Durel. “From surviving the Nakba, living the horrors of the Holocaust, and violence that has happened on the Tewa lands that we are standing on today.”

The world has watched over the previous five weeks irreversible damage and crimes against humanity unfold, Durel said, including collective punishment, forced evacuations, and attacks on medical staff and journalists.

“I hope you’ll stand with me today to no longer hide, to at all costs refuse to live in a society that asks us to turn a blind eye and numb to the very things devastating us to our core,” she said.

The daily horrors and atrocities of children buried under rubble and elders forced to flee their homes are breaking people like Joanna Kaufman.

“We remember the Nakba was not that long ago,” Kaufman said. “That legacy is a stain on all people of conscience, and I’m here to say: Never again is now.”

Kaufman said she is a Jewish woman of Ashkenazi and Sephardi heritage whose family are survivors of thousands of years of exile, genocide, ethnic cleansing, persecution, pogroms, forced conversion, and murder of their children and elders. She said she was raised with the conviction that never again will there be genocide of their people, and Palestinians’ people are her people.

“Antisemitism and Islamophobia will never be eradicated unless we stand in solidarity, and today, that means calling for a ceasefire,” Kaufman said. “I stand with the Israelis who are begging for a ceasefire. I stand with the Israelis who survived the pogroms in their ancestry, in their families, most recently on Oct. 7, who are begging for ceasefire, that this war not be perpetuated in their name.”

Durel said the public will not make this much noise only to disappear.

“We have to recognize the power that they want us to forget, which is burning inside each and every one of us standing here today,” she said. “Together, we will continue to stand for a ceasefire.”

Independent monitor finds external APD civilian advisory board falls short - Albuquerque Journal, KUNM News

An external civilian oversight board of Albuquerque’s Police Department is in dire straits thanks to understaffing and excessive caseloads – and it is leading to inadequate investigations into public complaints about police shootings.

As the Albuquerque Journal reports, a recent assessment by an independent monitor last week showed that the city of Albuquerque had reached 94% compliance with the Court-Approved Settlement Agreement.

That agreement is part of a yearslong consent decree with the U.S. Department of Justice to improve the department’s actions.

Of the report’s remaining 15 sections that are noncompliant, 12 of them have to do with the newly formed Civilian Police Oversight Advisory Board.

A previous version of the board was abolished by the city council. Since then, the report claims the advisory board cannot properly function because only 2 of the 5 seats are staffed. The report then goes on to say that the board is in “crisis.”

A random sampling of 20 civilian complaint cases found deficiencies in six which failed to meet deadlines, and two also had incomplete interviews.

APS settles suit over Benny Hargrove shooting - Albuquerque Journal, KUNM News 

Attorneys announced Monday that Albuquerque Public Schools has come to a settlement with the family of Benny Hargove, a 13-year-old student who was shot and killed by a classmate in 2021.

The Albuquerque Journal reports the district will pay the family $900,000. Additionally, it will include Hargove’s story in an anti-bullying program and make improvements to a city park named after him as part of the settlement.

Fellow Washington Middle School student Juan Saucedo Jr. shot and killed Hargrove at school with his father’s gun. Hargrove had stepped in to defend a friend from being bullied before he was shot.

Saucedo pleaded no contest to second-degree murder.

The lawsuit against Saucedo’s parents for not locking up their gun has not been settled.

Hargrove’s death inspired legislation that made it illegal in New Mexico to not store firearms in a way that keeps them out of the hands of children.

Roadrunner Food Bank seeks donations and volunteersKOB-TV, KUNM News 

One of the state’s largest food banks is asking for more donations as the holidays approach and demand increases.

KOB-TV reports Roadrunner Food Bank was not able to do its regular campaign with the U.S. Postal Service this fall to gather nonperishable food items. That means 100,000 to 200,000 fewer pounds of food at its warehouse.

Also, the increase in food prices and the end of the pandemic boost in SNAP benefits, known as food stamps, are contributing to increased demand.

Roadrunner will hold three mobile drive-thru food pickups this Saturday, Sunday and Monday. It’s seeking donations and volunteers.

New Mexico energy regulator who led crackdown on methane pollution is leaving her post - Associated Press

A top state regulator of the petroleum industry in New Mexico who helped implement new restrictions on methane pollution and waste is leaving her post at year's end.

The governor's office announced last week that Sarah Cottrell Propst is ending her five-year tenure as secretary of the Energy, Minerals and Natural Resources Department.

In a statement, Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham praised Cottrell Propst for responsible stewardship of natural resources that limited local climate pollution.

The state has witnessed an unprecedented expansion of local petroleum production that makes New Mexico the nation's No. 2 oil producer.

Advanced oil-drilling techniques have unlocked massive amounts of natural gas that can't always be fully gathered and transported. State oil and gas regulators recently updated regulations to limit methane venting and flaring at petroleum production sites.

Cottrell Propst has led an agency with more than 550 employees with responsibilities ranging from forest health to oversight of 35 state parks.

Santa Fe school officials to ask lawmakers to boost bus drivers' pay -Santa Fe New Mexican

Santa Fe Public Schools officials discontinued seven bus routes last week citing a lack of drivers – leaving hundreds of students and families across the district without transportation.

The Santa Fe New Mexican reports that Superintendent Larry Chavez told the board that the district is trying to cover 39 bus routes — down from 60 just two years ago — with a grand total of 29 current drivers.

The district has offered per diem stipends to families willing to use their own vehicles to transport students and establish hubs at elementary schools.

Despite this, the canceled routes make it more difficult for many Santa Fe students.

Chavez says what’s making it harder to find school bus drivers is the low pay. School bus drivers in Santa Fe are paid $19 an hour, which is up from $15 an hour about a year ago. But he says the pay is not a livable wage in Santa Fe.

Chavez is requesting support from Santa Fe’s state lawmakers to push for an increase in bus driver pay during the upcoming 2024 legislative session.

Virgin Galactic lays off 185 employees; will pause flights from Spaceport in 2024 - Danielle Prokop, Source New Mexico

Virgin Galactic announced 185 employee layoffs and that the company will “take a pause” for near-space tourism flights from Spaceport America in 2024.

In an announcement on Wednesday, just under 40% of the layoffs will be people working in New Mexico, according to a Worker Adjustment and Retraining Notification (WARN) letter sent to the New Mexico Department of Workforce Solutions.

None of the 73 employees are represented by a union, according to the notice.

Technicians, mechanics, inspectors, engineers, controllers, welders and an astronaut instructor, were all New Mexico positions included in the layoffs.

Virgin Galactic declined an interview and did not provide answers to emailed questions from Source NM determining which positions were laid off, or if there were severance packages.

The cuts to staff and flights will save money for Virgin Galactic to “redirect our resources” and build its new class of suborbital spaceplanes, said CEO Michael Colglazier in anall-staff memo.

The manufacturing site for “Delta-class” ships is still under construction in Phoenix, Arizona, with officials saying it will be online sometime next year.

In the third-quarter earnings call, Colglazier said Wednesday that the six near-space suborbital commercial flights out of Spaceport America “demonstrated the efficacy” of Virgin Galactic’s system.

“We are now stepping forward and placing all focus on safely, efficiently and successfully executing the Delta program,” he said.

He said after cuts, the company’s $1.1 billion balance should carry the company to 2026, when the Delta-class flights can carry paying customers. This would follow a flight-testing period in 2025 from Spaceport America, Colglazier said.

The Delta-class flights would have the ability to seat six people, and fly “twice per week” generating more revenue than the current Unity flights. He estimated the Delta-class ships would cost at least $50 million to $60 million to build, and would have a life-cycle of “500 or more flights.”

Colglazier celebrated the six commercial near-space flights, occurring once per month betweenMay and November.

Those flights came after years of promises from the company.

Former Virgin Galactic CEO and billionaire Richard Branson promised spaceflight tours out of New Mexicosince 2008.

He further announced that flights would start in2011,2014,2015, and2018.

Branson and five others in the first fully-crewed flighttook off from the Spaceport in May 2021.

Once-monthly commercial flights started in 2023.

After a maintenance pause, at least two Unity flights in the current ship are scheduled for 2024. Customers can pay a “premium price” to fly in open spots on the remaining Unity flights.

“These seats, as they become available, have been priced closer to $1 million than to our prior price-point of $450,000.” Colglazier said.

The two flights planned for 2024 are projected to have revenues between $2 million and $2.5 million, he said. That’s four times greater than previous flights, putting revenues for Unity flights at about $500,000.

The increase, he said, was driven by adding another seat previously occupied by the astronaut instructor and added research revenue.

New Mexico Spaceport Authority Executive Director Scott McLaughlin said there are no concerns about Virgin Galactic’s lease payments or long-term operations in an emailed statement.

“We understand that numerous New Mexicans and their families have been impacted by this reorganization,” McLaughlin said. “We wish them well and hope they find other employment in the area, including those who can continue in the region’s growing space sector.”

The spaceport authority said it will “continue to support other customers and continue to bring in new business and new companies to the spaceport.”

Virgin Galactic’s current lease with the spaceport extends through Jan. 1, 2033.

Biden's movable wall is criticized by environmentalists and those who want more border security - By Valerie Gonzalez, Associated Press

The Biden administration's plan to build new barriers along the U.S.-Mexico border in South Texas calls for a "movable" design that frustrates both environmentalists and advocates of stronger border enforcement.

The plans for the nearly 20 miles (32 kilometers) of new barrier in Starr County were made public in September when the federal government sought public input. The following month, the administration waived 26 federal laws protecting the environment and certain species to speed up the construction process.

"The United States Border Patrol did not ask for this downgraded border wall," Rodney Scott, a former U.S. Border Patrol chief said.

Construction is moving forward despite President Joe Biden's campaign promise not to build more wall and amid an increase in migrants coming to the nation's southern border from across Latin America and other parts of the world to seek asylum. Illegal crossings topped 2 million for the second year in a row for the government's budget year that ended Sept. 30.

People such as Scott who want more border security believe the barriers won't be strong enough to stop people from crossing illegally. Environmentalists, meanwhile, say the design actually poses a greater risk to animal habitat than former President Donald Trump's border wall.

Biden has defended the administration's decision by saying he had to use the Trump-era funding for it. The law requires the funding for the new barriers to be used as approved and for the construction to be completed in 2023.

Most barriers on the border were erected in the last 20 years under Trump and former President George W. Bush. Those sections of border wall include Normandy-style fencing that resembles big X's and bollard-style fencing made of upright steel posts.

Biden's barrier will be much shorter than the 18- to 30- foot (5.5 to 9-meter) concrete-filled steel bollard panels of Trump's wall. It also could be temporary.

An example of the style of barrier his administration will use can be seen in Brownsville, about 100 miles (161 kilometers) southeast of Starr County. Metal bollards embedded into 4-foot-high (1.2-meter-high) cement blocks that taper toward the top sit along the southern part of a neighborhood not far from the curving Rio Grande.

Over the last year, the Rio Grande Valley region was the fourth-busiest area for the number of people crossing into the U.S. illegally, though it was the busiest in previous years.

With the design planned for Starr County, federal border agents will be able to move around the fencing, said Democratic U.S. Rep. Henry Cuellar, who represents Starr County. "So it's one of those things where if they want to direct traffic, they can move it."

Scott agreed that the "moveable" fences can be used as an emergency stopgap measure to block off access in some areas. But he warned that if the fencing isn't placed far enough into the ground, someone might be able to use a vehicle to shove it out of the way, provided they don't mind damaging the vehicle.

Laiken Jordahl, a conservation advocate with the Center for Biological Diversity, said mountain lions, bobcats, javelinas, coyotes, white-tail deer, armadillos, jack rabbits, ground squirrels, and two endangered, federally protected plants — Zapata bladderpod and prostrate milkweed — may be affected.

Jordahl said the design the Biden administration is using "will block even the smallest species of animals from passing through the barrier."

"The one advantage for making it shorter is, I guess if somebody falls while they're climbing over it, they aren't falling as far," Scott Nicol, a board member of the Friends of the Wildlife Corridor, said.

Nicol, who lives in the Rio Grande Valley, is familiar with the type of barriers Biden's administration will use, the terrain, and the weather in Starr County. He is concerned about unintended consequences, particularly on the Rio Grande that separates U.S. and Mexico.

"You know, if Starr County gets hit by a big rainstorm and the water has to drain into the river, these walls — whether it's the bollard walls or the Jersey barrier walls — are going to block the movement of that water and dam it up," Nicol said.

Last month, the Center for Biological Diversity along with about 100 other organizations sent the U.S. government a letter pleading for reconsideration of environmental protection laws. To date, they have not received an answer.