About two hours ago while sitting here at the computer the phone rang. It was my dear friend Samir Twair who with his wife Pat reports for Washington Report on Middle Eastern Affairs telling me his wife wanted to talk to me. Pat was crying and asked if I was sitting down, and then she told me, Florence died.
Whoever is reading here more than likely does not know who "Florence" but then again you MIGHT, because Florence is treasured by SO many people. If you don't know her, she is "Florence from Whittier", Palestine's FRIEND who has spent YEARS advocating for the Palestinian cause from her pen and her voice on the phone. There is probably no single person in America who has made as many calls to the White House, the State Department, various Senators and Representatives, reporters, ANYONE who would listen to her, running up phone bills into the hundreds. She was 83
Florence went to college after her children were a little older, got her masters degree in history and then taught at Fullerton Junior College for several years. She was like so many Americans who didn't know the truth about Palestine, but when she did, she did NOT stop learning. Florence has literally THOUSANDS of books on the Middle East and history. Florence wanted the books donated upon her death to Cal-Poly Pomona College. They will get all her little notes she stuck in her books too, because Florence ALWAYS wrote notes. But Florence didn't know she was going to die because it happened in her sleep. And this is beyond words heartbreaking because just three weeks ago she was called in the morning by the State Department. Her 54 year old son had been found dead in his hotel room in Amsterdam, he had died in HIS sleep. No one went to her house, she was home alone when they called. The last three weeks of her own life was spent coping with the tragic death of her son. But she did NOT stop calling the State Department and congressional offices. Just a few days prior to passing away she contacted Mark Kirk's office because he had sponsored a bill which was attached to the Defense Bill which would tie the US ballistic system to Israel's. Florence told me, "No no, don't tell me to slow down, this is who I am, this is what will keep me strong and I am not going to stop".
I only met Florence a year ago, a mutual friend told me she had someone I should meet and gave me her phone number to call her. So I did. Florence didn't know why I would want to meet her. I said, "Because Mary told me NO ONE knows more about Palestine and the Middle East than you and that we would have things to share." So we began talking a little bit, and then MORE, to where it would be almost every day, sometimes several times a day for a couple of hours. I was EXCITED by Florence, I wanted (oh no, I'm crying so much because it's past tense) I wanted to LEARN from Florence, I just wanted to LISTEN to Florence, but it wasn't a one way street, because without a computer there were things she couldn't possibly know, so then it would be me calling Florence. Then there was Pat emailing me to call Florence to call the State Department and other entities on something. It was a SPECIAL relationship. I called Florence my mentor, my DEAR friend, and that I would be her student as long as she would put up with me. We would be disgusted, aggravated and FURIOUS together on the phone and we would also LAUGH, because Florence has a sense of humor that would make any one laugh. Florence is my FRIEND..I don't even know HOW to say it.
And always, she would ask, "Do you think I'm crazy, because I'm getting older you know and I want to make sure my mind is still sharp"
No you are NOT crazy Florence, you're probably one of the most brilliant people I've ever met and I LOVE to listen to you. I ENJOY you Florence and THAT's why I LOVE to talk to you. Keep talking Florence............PLEASE keep talking.
I'm crying too much to write anymore, but Palestine, you MUST KNOW Florence Richards who died three days ago, she LOVED YOU, she WORKED for you, you were her REASON for learning and doing SO much.
Here is just ONE of her letters, this one is from 1993-she wrote letters several times a week and would post them the day she wrote them. She also recently did the book review for Carter's book for WRMEA. This letter had been published in the Nation and then re-published in WRMEA.
To President Clinton, Feb. 3, 1993
I read with disgust about the compromise worked out by your administration with Israel over the deportation of over four hundred Palestinians. One article I read reported that the "United States will shield Israel" from United Nations sanctions.
Isn't this a major part of the problem? The United States has "shielded" Israel for decades and it has gotten away with numerous outrageous acts. Israeli leaders have not been held accountable, and they keep testing to see just how far they can go. We are blamed for what the Israelis do because our support enables them to do it.
I will know you and the members of Congress are serious about reducing the budget deficit when some American leaders with courage finally suggest stopping all aid to Israel.
This compromise is a disgrace. It can be viewed as setting another precedent, another acceptance of the unacceptable. Some fanatical Israelis might view this as an early step toward their goal of transferring all Arabs from their homes. Israel has no right to mistreat the Palestinians, and it should not be allowed to continue to occupy land that does not belong to it.
This latest agreement is not a compromise—it is a betrayal of Arabs and Americans.
Florence Richards, Whittier, CA
Florence I love you..................