or Not To Leave
by Carolyn S. Scarr
It is now clear that in 2002 the peace movement was right: an attack on Iraq would be illegal, immoral and stupid. The cost in human life and suffering is staggering. The economic impact defies calculation.
As the occupation of Iraq has moved from direct rule by U.S. governors to a proxy rule by local collaborators, however, the voices of progressives in the United States have become increasingly muddled. In some instances the argument has devolved into a discussion of the advisability of the removal of troops of the United States and its allies currently occupying Iraq. Even some who had opposed the invasion are now saying that "We can’t cut and run." A number of peace groups and progressive members of Congress are struggling with the question of how and when the U.S. and its partners in occupation should withdraw and what forces should replace them, the unspoken presumption being that a replacement force is necessary.
Some concerns and issues being voiced include:
• U.S. withdrawal will leave a power vacuum.
• The current Iraqi government has asked the U.S. to stay.
• The U.S. should remain until the present Iraqi government has the trained police and military forces to provide internal security.
• Outside terrorists will move in or be strengthened if the U.S. leaves.
• There will be a civil war. This concern includes a characterization of aspects of the current conflict in Iraq as a civil war.
Some of those raising these concerns offer as solutions:
• A definite date of U.S. withdrawal, often several years in the future, giving time in which the U.S. will train Iraqi security forces.
• An indefinite time of U.S. training of Iraqi security forces, followed by U.S. withdrawal.
• U.S. withdrawal in the near future to be replaced by an international peacekeeping force under the command of the United Nations, the UN and the Arab League, NATO. The National Council of Churches’ statement calls for "a credible multinational peace-keeping force" without spelling out the details.
A Power Vacuum
Common to all of the concerns and proposals is the presumption that 26 million Iraqis cannot govern and police their own country. The idea that the withdrawal of foreign troops will leave a power vacuum is essentially racist. It ignores the fact that Iraq is a country with three thousand years of history. Iraq has an active independent labor movement going back one hundred years whose leaders call for the immediate end to the U.S. occupation. Education has historically been prized in Iraq. Under the Ba’ath regime, Iraq offered free education through university to both men and women. It is reported that immediately upon the arrival of U.S. troops a schoolteacher in one town began to organize local elections. His efforts were immediately quashed by the Coalition Provisional Authority, who considered that Iraq wasn’t ready for democracy.
Iraqi Government Request
The elections this January resulted in a significant majority for the party whose platform called unambiguously for the withdrawal of occupying forces. Newsweek reported this January that "every major poll shows an ever-larger majority of Iraqis wants the Americans to leave." If the current government of Iraq asks the U.S. to remain, it is going against the clear will of the Iraqi people and violating the platform on which it was elected. The fact that key leaders in the current government of Iraq have been on the payroll of the CIA and/or British intelligence casts doubt on the legitimacy of that government.
U.S. to Train Iraqi Military
It is important to take a careful look at the kind of police and military force the U.S. is putting in place in Iraq. In the May 1, 2005 issue of the New York Times Magazine, Seymour Hersh writes of the "Salvador Option". He describes the "Special Police Commandos", a force made up in significant part of members of Saddam Hussein’s secret police. This is a Sunni force. In addition to being a military force, these commandos continue their role as secret police, arresting people for political activity. One recent target was Khalid, one of the several Iraqi people maintaining blog-sites critical of the U.S. occupation and Iraq’s collaborating rulers. Considerable international pressure was probably the reason why he was released after only a few weeks in prison.
Scott Ritter describes the adoption of the Shi’ite Badr Brigade into the U.S.-sponsored command. The Badr Brigade, he writes, is the armed militia of the Shia political party known as the Supreme Council of the Islamic Revolution in Iraq, or SCIRI. It is one of the more effective and brutal assassination squads which went into action in Baghdad in mid-2003 after Paul Bremer took over the Coalition Provisional Authority. Bremer’s covert operatives made an alliance with the Badr militia to kill suspected Ba’athists in the Baghdad region. A third force of the military the U.S. is pulling together in Iraq is derived from the Kurdish militias. How the rival Kurdish groups will blend into this collage remains to be seen.
When used as military, these three forces are generally sent to regions where they are not at home: Shi’ites and Kurds patrol Sunni areas, Sunni and Kurds the Shi’ite areas. This results in a greater willingness to use massive amounts of force against the civilian population. The Chinese government used this trick against the students in Tiananmen Square, where the troops were from a distant province and did not speak the same language as the students. It may be predicted that in Iraq, as elsewhere, this practice will result in the growth of regional and sectarian antipathy.
Violence which can be classified as terrorist is certainly taking place in Iraq. Some terrorist acts are the work of groups trying to drive out U.S. occupiers, often targeting Iraqis considered collaborators. Some terrorist acts are sectarian in nature and may be the work of religious fundamentalists who are taking advantage of the situation to attack people they disagree with. The reasons for attacks on international agencies and their personnel are unclear. It is to be expected that a certain number of Iraqis harbor hard feelings toward the United Nations for the thirteen years of genocidal sanctions which resulted in one and a half million deaths and left the country’s infrastructure in shambles. The death of CARE’s Margaret Hassan has not been given any comprehensible explanation. She was widely known for many years as a devoted friend to the people of Iraq. Other deaths of people working for the good of the people of Iraq are similarly tragic and meaningless. Speculation as to who might be targeting such people remains speculation at this point.
Terrorism is generally defined to be violence which targets civilians in order to achieve a political objective. Under that definition the U.S. war of occupation must also be classified as terrorism. Since it was not an act of immediate self-defense, the U.S. invasion of Iraq was unjustified under requirements of international law and the United Nations charter. The goals were economic and political. The "shock and awe" campaign clearly targeted civilians. From the beginning, a significant portion of the casualties have been civilian, both in the large assaults and in the day-to-day operations of occupation. Estimates of civilian casualties range from 26,000 (Iraq Body Count, which tallies only those deaths which can be documented by western reporters) to 120,000. (Lancet published a report in October, 2004 estimating 100,000 deaths at that time.) These figures do not include deaths resulting from the increased destruction of the civilian infrastructure and the elimination of the food distribution program maintained by the Ba’ath regime with Oil for Food funds. The already genocidal death rate of 5,000 children per month has by all estimates doubled. Hospitals are now more poorly supplied than they were even under sanctions. To make matters worse, they are frequently targeted by U.S. troops during major assaults, as was documented in the U.S. attack on Fallujah last fall.
The withdrawal of the U.S. military will result in the elimination of terrorism by both the U.S. and its Iraqi agents. U.S. withdrawal will reduce the attractiveness of Iraq as a field for anti-U.S. terrorists. Homegrown terrorism and terrorism from other sources will be a problem the Iraqis themselves will have to deal with. A continued U.S. presence will not be of assistance.
"If the U.S. goes, there may be civil war. If it stays, there will be civil war."
This is the evaluation of Sheila Provencher, home for a speaking tour after a year-and-a-half stint with the Christian Peacemaker Teams, living among the people of Baghdad. She reported on the work Muslims are doing in the newly- formed Muslim Peacemaker Team in improving communication and developing trust between Sunnis and Shi’ites.
The Muslim Peacemaker Team is not alone in promoting sectarian cooperation. Blood drives in Sunni communities to relieve Shi’ite towns under U.S. attack have been reported as have Shi’ite blood drives in support of Sunni towns. Refugees have been welcomed regardless of sectarian differences. Leaders of both communities have made clear their determination to work together for the good of all Iraqis. The Baghdad blogger, Riverbend, describes her experience of Sunnis and Shi’ites intermarrying and her own appreciation of Christian churches and holidays. The removal of the U.S. occupation with its divide-and-conquer strategy will improve the chances of success for people of good will.
Whenever the U.S. withdraws from Iraq, some retaliation against collaborators can be anticipated –– as has happened in many countries around the world when a foreign occupation is concluded. It happened in France. It happened in Italy. It is not a civil war. We can hope for the presence of a Tomas Borge, the Nicaraguan who could forgive his torturers and the murderers of his wife, but the presence of such a person cannot be a requirement for our withdrawal.
If Not Now, When?
Some proposals by those who hold back from supporting immediate withdrawal call for the setting of a certain date to begin withdrawal –– months, or sometimes several years in the future. They tend to rely on the argument that the U.S. presence provides a stabilizing influence, which it does not, and that the U.S. will train a police force to protect the Iraqi people, which is contrary to the experience of people previously occupied by the U.S. around the globe.
It is time for a hard, confessional look at our history and a recognition that we can do no good by staying in Iraq. It is time to leave now.
If Not The U.S., Who?
Shall the U.S. withdraw in favor of an international peace-keeping force? This is the proposal of a number of U.S.-based peace-and-justice groups.
Heading the list of proposed international occupiers is the United Nations. U.N. forces are frequently sent to act as observers and in some instances interveners in cases of conflict between groups within a country or at borders. They have done a lot of good work.
The negative potential role of U.N. troops in Iraq can be illuminated by looking at reports of U.N. actions in Haiti. The actions of troops under U.N. command in Haiti diverges appallingly from anything which could be characterized as "peacekeeping". Details may be found in the Haiti article in this issue, but in general it may be seen that U.N. troops in Haiti routinely back up the police of the coup government as the local police fired on unarmed protesters who were calling for the return of their elected president, Jean Bertrand Aristide. They have also engaged in independent assaults on poor neighborhoods where Aristide supporters are the vast majority.
These actions of U.N. forces in Haiti are based in part on the fact that, under the influence of the U.S. and France, the United Nations Security Council has recognized as the legitimate government of Haiti the coup which overthrew Aristide’s elected government.
Remembering that the Security Council authorized the United States’ provisional government of Iraq; remembering that the Security Council turned over to the U.S. –– never to be seen again –– the assets of the Iraq Programme (these assets were Iraqi property under Oil for Food); remembering that the Security Council authorized the death-dealing sanctions on Iraq beginning in 1990 and continuing until the invasion of 2003: it may be anticipated that the Security Council will likely duplicate in Iraq the reprehensible practices seen in Haiti. We may well see U.N. troops acting as shock forces for a "Salvadorized" Iraqi government.
Some suggest that NATO replace U.S. forces. Others put forward the Arab League. In both instances what would be put in place would be troops from countries which are closely linked politically and economically with the U.S. NATO troops would likely hail from the newer members of NATO, former Eastern bloc nations that are in some cases not exactly long on civil liberties and democracy. Many of the Arab League nations are at best nominally democratic and are closely linked to U.S. foreign policy.
Generally speaking, an international force would most likely be another occupying force bearing a different flag but carrying out a U.S. policy –– to maintain a collaborationist government which will continue the transformation of Iraq into a Third World country whose oil is exploited under U.S. direction, sold to our friends and withheld from our enemies and economic competitors; whose economy is privatized; whose work-force is non-union; whose wealth is in the hands of a few collaborators; and whose people are poor, uneducated and oppressed.
The peace-and-justice movement is called upon to stand against this expansion of the New World Order and oppose empire in whatever guise it presents itself.
Some immediate responses:
• It is necessary to support the desire of the considerable majority of the people of Iraq to end the foreign occupation of Iraq, right away. To quote Traveling Soldier, "Someone asked a soldier who was against the war, ‘How can we leave Vietnam?’ The answer: ‘Ship or plane, either is good.’"
• Maintain a public witness for the end to the war. Communities all around the country are holding regular vigils for peace.
• Christian Peacemaker Teams (CPT) continues its presence of solidarity and witness in Iraq. CPTers work with Iraqis to find family members arrested and spirited away by U.S. and Iraqi forces. They help with obtaining reparations for damages. Even though their presence is miniscule in the face of the problems, they bring encouragement and hope. More people might discover that calling. They can certainly benefit from financial support.
• Some discussions are underway to begin a carefully designed boycott of appropriately selected large U.S. corporations.
• Counter-recruitment and support of our young people in their discernment process regarding conscientious objection to war are essential. We must make it clear that refusnik U.S. soldiers will be welcomed in our communities and will receive help in getting jobs and education. The fear of having "bad paper" (a less than honorable discharge) must be removed.
• We must support the will of the Iraqi people and oppose all moves to restructure Iraq’s economy and privatize public resources. An immediate halt to the construction of U.S. military bases in Iraq is essential.
• Lobbying at the congressional level is important. We must ask Congress to go further than selecting a distant time to begin withdrawal. We can demand of Congress the disclosure of all briefing papers alleging Iraqi possession of development of WMDs or connection with terrorist groups of whatever level of secrecy.
At a basic level, it is necessary to challenge within ourselves the sometimes unconscious tendency to think that the U.S. can’t really be doing such awful things. People who exclaim "We have never done something like this before" have forgotten Vietnam, Grenada, the Philippines, the Bay of Pigs, Nicaragua …… This sense of pre-established innocence is sometimes called "U.S. exceptionalism." It is the curious conceit of feeling one is without sin.
On the more hopeful side, it seems that a Confessing movement is struggling to be born in the soul of the interfaith peace and justice movement.
Let us be a part of it.
The regime established in Haiti after the U.S.-sponsored coup on February 29, 2004, has followed the all too familiar pattern with its arrests of high-level leaders of the popularly supported Lavalas Party and its supporters, and widespread attacks on poor people.
A Pattern of Repression
Congresswoman Maxine Waters’ letter of December 3, 2004 provides a synopsis of arrests of Lavalas leaders up to that point
It was gratifying to learn that Father Gerard Jean-Juste was finally released on Monday and at last is free to return to serving the impoverished people of Saint Claire Church. However, as you surely know, hundreds of other political prisoners remain illegally held in Haiti’s jails, including several prominent members of Haiti’s former government. Former Prime Minister Yvon Neptune has been illegally detained for more than four months, while former Interior Minister Jocelerme Privert has been illegally detained for almost six months. Senator Yvon Feuillé, former Deputy Rudy Hérivaux, and the well-known Haitian singer and community activist Anne Auguste (So Anne) also continue to be illegally imprisoned [since May, 2004]. Interim Prime Minister Gerard Latortue should release all of these individuals, as well as all political prisoners and other Haitians who are being detained solely because of their suspected political views or support for the Lavalas Party.
Fr. Jean Juste reimprisoned. On July 21 of this year Fr. Jean Juste went to participate in the funeral service of journalist and kidnap victim Jacques Roches. He was verbally and physically assaulted by members of the pro-coup Group 184. His attorney, Bill Quigley, who was with him at the time, said "they shoved him, spit on him, and cursed him. He was assaulted in the church while in full priest clothing." Police then removed him from the service, ostensibly for his own protection. He was held and intermittently interrogated in the police station in Petionville for twelve hours. He was then placed in prison for alleged involvement in the murder of Jacques Roches. Although Fr. Jean Juste was in Miami at the time of Roches’ death, at the time of this writing he remains in prison.
United Nations forces in Haiti implicated in repression
The 52-page report of the Harvard Law Student Advocates for Human Rights, of March 2005, Keeping the Peace in Haiti?, provides a detailed examination of the role the United Nations forces have played to support repression in Haiti. To quote their Executive Summary:
U.N. Security Council Resolution 1542 established MINUSTAH [the United Nations Stabilization Mission in Haiti] on June 1, 2004 and endowed the mission with a strong mandate in three principal areas: providing a secure and stable environment, particularly through disarmament; supporting the political process and good governance in preparation for upcoming elections; and monitoring and reporting on human rights…. MINUSTAH has made little, if any, progress on any of these three fronts….
….Numerous allegations of severe human rights abuses by the Haitian National Police (HNP) remain uninvestigated. These violation span a gory spectrum, from arbitrary arrest and detention, to disappearances and summary executions, to killing of scores of hospitalized patients and the subsequent disposal of their bodies at mass graves. As this report details, MINUSTAH had effectively provided cover for the police to wage a campaign of terror in Port-au-Prince’s slums. Even more distressing than MINUSTAH’s complicity in HNP abuses are credible allegations of human rights abuses perpetrated by MINUSTAH itself, as documented in this report….
Ben Terrall, of Haiti Action Committee, "We Must Kill the Bandits!" Lula’s Troops in Haiti, in Counterpunch, Nov 17, 2004 writes:
Since the February 29 ouster of democratically-elected Haitian President Jean-Bertrand Aristide, the U.N. has repeatedly stood by while the U.S.-backed regime detains, arrests and even murders members of Aristide’s Lavalas party. At odds with its reputation as a "progressive" government, Brazil has been one of the key players in U.N. complicity with the de facto government.
....the U.N. Military Command works in close coordination with the Haitian National Police, which has already integrated many former military into their ranks. While sending thousands of troops to Haiti, the United Nations has so far sent only one human rights officer to Haiti; he must receive permission from the post-coup Justice Minister, Bernard Gousse, before he is able to visit a prison.
In an interview broadcast October 8 on Haiti’s Radio Metropole, U.N. Commander General Augusto Heleno Ribeiro Pereira of Brazil... discussing police raids in poor neighborhoods, declared, "we must kill the bandits [i.e. Aristide supporters] but it will have to be the bandits only, not everybody." The general ignored the killers and thugs freed by anti-Aristide paramilitaries who broke open jails as they took over a number of towns in the winter of 2004.
....U.N. troops have done nothing to stop shootings of unarmed demonstrators. [At] the September 30 demonstration in the pro-Aristide neighborhood Bel Air, described by the Oregon-based Institute for Justice and Democracy in Haiti: "Police interrupted a legal demonstration commemorating the anniversary of Haiti’s September 30, 1991 coup d’etat. Human rights observers accompanying the demonstration reported that police fired on the march, after several attempts to disperse it failed."
Going back to the Harvard report:
Our delegation discovered that, with the direct support of the U.N.’s superior firepower and protection, including armored vehicles, bullet-proof vests and helmets, the HNP has been more aggressive in its neighborhood sweeps than before MINUSTAH’s arrival....In effect, MINUSTAH has provided cover for abuses committed by the HNP during operations in poor, historically tense Port-au-Prince neighborhoods…Not surprisingly, in the area of the "joint operation," MINUSTAH’s police has won the plaudits of Director Charles [Director of the Haitian National Police], the Haitian interim government, and U.S. embassy officials.
....In the FAd’H [Haitian Armed Forces] stronghold of Petit Goave, numerous reports allege that members of the "Convergence" or opposition party have systematically chased all supporters of the pro-Aristide political party Fanmi Lavalas from the town.... [This chasing includeed] looting and burning houses and physical and verbal harassment –– against the "Lavalasiens."….The lone member who remained behind…had been shot to death and set on fire. This is just one instance of MINUSTAH failure to protect civilians and human rights.
The July 6 Massacre by U.N., described by Brian Concannon Jr., Institute for Justice & Democracy in Haiti, and Seth Donnelly and Dave Welsh of the Bay Area who were on the Labor/Human Rights Delegation to Haiti:
On Wednesday morning, July 6th, at approximately 3:00 AM, U.N. occupation forces in Haiti carried out a major military operation in the working-class neighborhood of Cité Soleil, one of the poorest in Port-au-Prince and also a stronghold of support for Haiti’s majority political party Lavalas and President Jean-Bertrand Aristide. Presumably, the purpose of the operation was to crack down on illegal "gang activity", in particular on "gang" leader Dread Wilme. In actuality, a U.S. trade union and human rights delegation in Port-au-Prince discovered evidence of a massacre conducted by the U.N. forces, targeting the larger community itself.
According to accounts from many different members of the community, many of whom chose to remain anonymous, as well as from journalists who were on the scene during the operation, U.N. forces surrounded two neighborhoods within Cité Soleil, Boisneuf and Project Drouillard, sealing off the alleys with tanks and troops.
Two helicopters flew overhead. At 4:30 AM, U.N. forces launched the offensive, shooting into houses, shacks, a church and a school with machine guns, tank fire and tear gas. Eyewitnesses reported that when people fled to escape the tear gas, U.N. troops gunned them down from the back.
The report provides the circumstances of individuals’ deaths, people getting ready for work, children and their mothers.
Seth Donnelly, a member of the U.S. human rights delegation in Port-au-Prince, visited Cité Soleil with Haitian human rights workers on Thursday afternoon, July 7th. The team gathered testimony from many members of the community, young and old, men, women and youth.... The community allowed the team to film the evidence of the massacre, showing the homes — in some cases made of tin and cardboard — that had been riddled by bullets, tank fire and helicopter ammunition, as well as showing the team some of the corpses still there, including a mother and her two children.
Published estimates indicate that upwards of 50 may have been killed and an indeterminate number wounded, and that more than 300 heavily armed U.N. troops took part in the assault on this densely populated residential neighborhood.
The fact that the The Force Commander of MINUSTAH, made a public comment giving political support to the re-election of U.S. President Bush is a troubling indicator of the source of some of the problems with U.N. operations in Haiti.
From an October 17, 2004 AP report:
In an interview posted Saturday on the Web site of Agencia Brasil, the Brazilian government’s official news agency, Lt. Gen. Augusto Heleno Ribeiro said that comments made in March by Kerry had raised the hopes of supporters of Jean-Bertrand Aristide that the former Haitian president would be able to return to power.
"Statements made by a candidate to the presidency of the United States created false hopes among pro-Aristide supporters,’’ Ribeiro told the agency. "His (the candidate’s) statements created the expectation that instability and a change in American policy would contribute to Aristide’s return.’’
Kerry said he would have sent an international force to protect Aristide as rebel forces were threatening to enter the Haitian capital, Port-au-Prince."
Seven Years of Witness
by Carolyn S. Scarr
In early 1998, as Secretary of State Madeleine Albright toured the United States to promote an attack on Iraq, I called up Lee Williamson and suggested that this time we get busted before attack instead of waiting until the bombs started falling on Iraq. He agreed, if we could find enough people to join us to make it worth the trouble. In a couple of days of phone calls we had what could be considered a quorum.
We planned the action at the Oakland Federal Building and invited people to a rally beforehand. One of the speakers we invited was Barbara Lubin of the Middle East Children’s Alliance. Barbara stood in the midday sun in front of the Oakland Fed and told us that, horrible as an attack on Iraq would be, what was really killing the people of Iraq –– and especially the children –– was the sanctions.
This was an eye-opener to me. I knew that sanctions had been imposed on Iraq when Saddam Hussein invaded Kuwait in 1990. The peace movement at that time had urged giving time for the sanctions to work. I had not read at the time of the way the U.S. had undermined the diplomatic efforts attempting to achieve an Iraqi withdrawal from Kuwait. I knew that the sanctions had been continued after the war in order to force the disarmament of Iraq and that an inspection method had been established. This information had been on the back burner as I worked on other issues. Barbara’s description of undrinkable water, lack of medicines and adequate food, and the deaths of children at the rate of thousands each month came as a shock.
At the next meetings of the Ecumenical Peace Institute board and Mustardseed Affinity Group, I brought up the subject of the sanctions and we discussed what to do about them. Thus the Tuesday Vigil at the Oakland Federal Building was begun. Middle East Children’s Alliance very generously gave us a large, sturdy banner.
For seven years the small but faithful group of Tuesday Vigilers has given witness and provided in our half-sheet flyers information not usually found in the U.S. mainstream media. Each Tuesday we hand out about 350 flyers, with news or announcements of upcoming events related to Iraq. We first focussed on the sanctions, their impact on the ordinary people of Iraq, and the efforts around the world to lift them. As the pressure for a war on Iraq mounted, we provided information countering the lies about weapons of mass destruction and the purported connection between Iraq and Al Qu’ada. After the U.S. invasion of Iraq, we have shared the voices of the people of Iraq under fire and the voices of the wide range of people in this country and elsewhere working to end the war and ongoing occupation.
Some special occasions stand out.
Candle In Heaven, December 1, 1998. Evelyn San Diego, a member of the St. Benedict Parish in San Francisco, performed a silent dance with candles for the children of Iraq. The dance formed an American Sign Language response to the suffering and death of Iraqi children, calling for an end to the sanctions.
Feast of the Holy Innocents. December 28 fell on Tuesday in 1998. The noon vigil was extended until 5:30 with an ongoing witness remembering the deaths of innocent children in Iraq and in Bethlehem. People of every faith and those of concerns based in a spirit of humanity gathered to sing, pray, hear updates and reports, and stand in silence, and at appropriate intervals to hear the sounding of a gong marking the death of an Iraqi child killed by the sanctions. We remember this holiday each year.
Post Office Action, April 27, 1999. In sign and token of our wish to break down the walls between the U.S. and Iraq, we attempted to mail to the Iraqi Red Crescent Society some common medical supplies in short supply in Iraqi hospitals, such as gauze bandages, tape, antiseptic cream, aspirin and other analgesics, scissors, surgical gloves. We gathered and wrapped the box, attempted to mail it to Iraq. Such mailings were prohibited by U.S. Postal Regulations, and our mailing was refused. Therefore we re-addressed the package to Secretary of State Madeleine Albright and sent it to her with a letter requesting her to arrange for the delivery of the accompanying shipment of medical supplies to the Iraqi Red Crescent Society, General Headquarters, Al-Mansour — Baghdad, PO Box 6143, Iraq "as sign and token of the change of heart of the United States which now commits to work for an end of sanctions, the rebuilding of the infrastructure of Iraq — including its oil production capacity so that they may not need charity, and the end of the U.S. role as arms supplier of the world." The box was mailed back to us.
The vigil has settled down into a regular event. People working at the Federal Building have come to expect us. We have acquired several "regular customers", including a Federal Marshall and a Brinks truck driver. Support for the vigil has grown beyond Ecumenical Peace Institute and Mustardseed Affinity Group to include Women for Peace, Berkeley Women in Black, and East Bay Coalition to End Sanctions on Iraq (now East Bay Coalition to Support Self-rule for Iraqis).
9/11/2001 was a Tuesday. As we awoke to the horrifying news from New York, we wondered what we should do about the vigil. Should we hold it? Should we not? What could we say? My friend from Women for Peace and I decided that we would come and stand wherever we were permitted to stand. We held a sign which read "We mourn the deaths of victims of violence everywhere." The Federal Building was closed and taped off. We stood across the street in silence. An older Federal Marshall coming in from the BART Station, asked me in his grief, "Does that include the people in New York?" "Yes," I said, as I reached out my hand to him. He took my hand in a brief clasp.
It was not too long after 9/11 that we were approached at our vigil by a young man who had lost his cousin in the world trade center. Anger was mixed with his grief and he cried out, "We should kill them all." In spite of his anger, he was ready to hear that his grief was shared by others, including the mother in Iraq whose children had been bombed in Basra, and a woman at the vigil who had survived the Holocaust but lost all of her family.
The vigil is now entering its eighth year. Each Tuesday from noon to one between three and ten people gather at the Oakland Federal Building, hand out informational flyers and talk to whoever wants to ask questions or share something. We invite you to join this community of witness.
|A grief I
A grief I cannot know
joins with anger in your eyes.
They killed your cousin in New York.
They all should pay.
Iraqi, Arab, Muslim –– the whole lot
deserve to die.
And I can only say
I can’t pretend to know your grief.
I’m sorry for your cousin’s death.
This Iraqi woman shares your loss.
her son lies bombed in Basra’s streets
his broken body,
her twisted tear-streaked face.
Beside me Oakland man,
Iraqi woman in the photograph, share
a grief I cannot know.
February 27, 2002
© 2002 Carolyn S. Scarr
most recent modification, November 9, 2004
from Wendy Kaufmyn’s email reports
Wendy reports from her work this summer with the International Women’s Peace Service (IWPS - www.iwps.info) team in Hares, a village in the center of the northern West Bank, close to Nablus and Qalqilia.
A part of the International Solidarity Movement, IWPS provides international accompaniment to Palestinian civilians, documents and nonviolently intervenes in human rights abuses, supports acts of nonviolent resistance to end the brutal and illegal military Occupation and oppose the Apartheid Wall.
Right now, the main focus of the IWPS team is to support nonviolent resistance to the wall. The Annexation Wall does not follow the "green line", but rather confiscates an additional 10% of the West Bank as well as most of the underground water wells, leaving no irrigated land for the Palestinians, which is their major source of income.
There are almost daily nonviolent demonstrations against this abomination. Of course the Israeli army has met this nonviolent resistance with disproportionate force, including tear gas, rubber bullets, sound bombs and now – live ammunition.
Visiting friends in Deir Ibzi’a has been wonderful. We arrived on Thursday and spent the day with Deeb and his wife Suzanne and their 3 children. Feraz, who is six, wants to come and live with me in California.
....Deir Ibzi’a is about to suffer the same fate as so many Palestinian villages. The Israelis are going to build a road that will cut the village off from half of its fields. They will need permission to go to their fields now. They expect to receive occasional permission in the first year, but after that, they think that the fields will be completely cut off from them and that yet another settlement will be build on the lands. Furthermore, the road itself will require taking 3,000 dunams just to build.
We met with three of the Friends of Deir Ibzi’a scholarship recipients on Saturday night. It was so inspiring and hopeful to see bright young people who really want to learn. We had met one of the recipients, Saddam, at the first summer camp in 2002. At that time he had not done well enough on the Tawljihi to get into a university and so he was driving a taxi..… Saddam was so inspired by the summer camp and its emphasis on education that he retook the exam and applied to the university. He has just finished his second year and has done very well.
Issa lives just down the street. He is in an inspiring man. He was participating in nonviolent resistance at the beginning of this Intifada. Soldiers told him that they would come to his house and get him. He asked they why not just take him now, instead of terrorizing his family? A few weeks later (in May of 2000) the army came into the village. He was running to get some children and help them to get inside. They shot him. He said that while he was on the ground, shot and bleeding, he called to the soldiers to come and help him. Even though they didn’t have anything else to do, they didn’t come. He then passed out. When he awoke in the hospital, he knew that he would never walk again. He said that he doesn’t hate the soldier that shot him. He understands that the soldier is a victim too, just like a Palestinian. On the third anniversary of being shot, he wrote a letter to the soldier, forgiving him and inviting him to his home.
Another villager we met is Um Faddi. She is a womyn in the village who was just elected to the village council. She also works with a Palestinian womyn’s organization called Women for Life which works against the wall and also for educational and agricultural projects for womyn. They just got a grant from the Global Fund for Women.
I traveled to Bil’in to participate in a major demonstration scheduled for Friday. Bil’in is a village about 10 km from Deir Ibzi’a, which is about 10 km from Ramallah. The resistance to the wall has been very organized, creative and non-violent. The leaders have been arrested and harassed. Right now they are out on very high bail. At this demonstration the village had created an incredible prop of huge scales of justice. The world (a plastic beach ball with the world map on it) was on one side of the scale and Israel (another beach ball with the Israeli flag wrapped around it) was on the other. The U.S. was tipping the balance in favor of Israel. The base was a coffin on which was written, "RIP, international law and peace." The demonstration marked the year anniversary of the International Court ruling that declared illegal the wall that Israel is building.
About 500 people including Israelis and Internationals marched to the wall with the villagers. We were met by the army who, at first, I thought were showing remarkable restraint. But they watched on (with their guns and tear gas canisters poised of course) as people sang out chants and slogans. Then the men prayed on the land. It was very powerful. After awhile the village decided to retreat. As we were retreating the army started attacking with rubber bullets, sponge bullets (a new weapon in their arsenal) and tear gas. I got a mild case of exposure to the gas but it was still pretty awful. One young man was hit in the head with a rubber bullet and was rushed off in an ambulance.
We visited the village of As Sawiya this morning where the Israeli army has demolished a portion of one family’s home and is threatening another family with the demolition of their entire house. Both families are guilty of the crime of adding on to their homes to meet the needs of their growing families. Settlements call this "natural growth" and they are allowed to expand into more and more Palestinian land to accommodate it. Palestinian families are not accorded the same option.
We met with the family of Ibrahim Ahmed Tabil and they told us their story. At approximately 7:00 a.m. on Tuesday, July 7, an estimated 20 army jeeps, 3 police jeeps, 1 large personnel carrier, 75 soldiers, and 2 bulldozers showed up at their home and started to demolish the room in which Ibrahim was sleeping. Ibrahim is 82 years old and walks with the aid of crutches. He awoke and started to argue with them, so they pushed him and his bed out of the room, forced the family (a total of 9 members) to stay in another part of the house and finished the demolition. They did not allow the family to recover any of the possessions in the room. The operation took approximately 10 minutes; the army was there for approximately one hour. The family of Ibrahim has been living in As Sawiya since the time of his great-great-grandfather.
I’m sure that you have heard about the Netanya bombing that killed 6 Israeli civilians last week. Although this is indefensible and heartbreaking, I feel compelled to also make sure that you know the context surrounding this atrocity.
Did the U.S. press cover anything about the report issued by the Palestinian Ministry of Interior citing the military violations carried out by the Israeli army in the occupied territories between March 1 and June 30, 2005? These violations included 46 Palestinian residents killed, 462 injured, and 1,249 Palestinians arrested during army raids on Palestinian cities, towns, villages and refugee camps. Additionally during this time, Israeli military orders annexed around 33,803 dunams (approximately 10,000 acres) of farmlands for the Wall, settlements, settlement roads, and military usage.
Today I want to talk about the joy I experienced last night when I attended the wedding of a former student of mine who is from Ramallah.
I met Amjad in 1998 when he enrolled in my Intro to Computers class. He was 19. One day in the class I gave a PowerPoint presentation about my cat Omar (so that the students could learn how to use the software) and Amjad was intrigued by the fact that my cat had an Arab name. When I came to Palestine the first time, I was to visit his parents, but the curfew in Ramallah prevented that. I did meet them when I went to Amjad’s graduation.
So last night I had the honor of attending his wedding. It was a very joyful affair. Lots of dancing, music and laughter. Amjad seemed very happy and it made me happy to see him with his bride and the life that they are starting together.
I fear what the future will bring to Palestine but Palestinians go on with their lives, occupation or not. Edward Said once said something about this being the most powerful form of nonviolent resistance. I agree.
Today I spent much of the day at a girls’ summer camp run by the womyn’s group Women For Life. They have organized some all-womyn protests against the Wall that included girls from the group Flowers Against the Occupation. Now they are running this camp for the girls. Among mostly fun activities, there was a session included where the girls learned how to minimize risk during a demonstration and get away from a soldier without harm.
The camp in our village did not have such a good ending. The Israeli army came into the village just when it was finishing up for the day....Two army jeeps pulled up, grabbed a twelve-year-old boy, blindfolded, handcuffed him and took him away. When the teacher tried to inquire about the army’s action he was refused any information and threatened with guns. Thankfully the boy was released about two hours later and brought back to Hares by his father from the police station. However, this boy and all of the other children were traumatized. And no one knows why this happened. Personally, I believe it has something to do with what this particular camp is about.
The children in this camp are learning about nonviolence and meditation. It is being organized by Issa.... He is completely committed to nonviolence. Issa went to the conference at Plum Village in France led by Thich Nhat Hanh that brought Israelis and Palestinians together. (The book about this is "Peace Begins Here".) So now he is trying to teach what he has learned to the children. He believes it will help them deal with the trauma that is their daily lives.
Friday, August 26, 7:00 PM Haiti: Breaking the Shackles. Discussion and audio-visual presentation by the Haiti Action Committee, All Saints Catholic Church Cafeteria, 22824 2nd Street, Hayward. Suggested Donation $10 - $20. Wheelchair accessible. No one turned away for lack of funds. A benefit for the Haiti Action Committee and SAPJC (South Alameda County Peace and Justice Coalition). Co-sponsored by the All Saints Justice and Peace Committee and TCPJ (Tri-City Peace and Justice) For more information call: (510) 825-6968 or (510) 566-2349.
Saturday, September 24, march––Stop the Colonial War in Iraq! End the Colonial Occupation from Iraq to Palestine to Haiti Gather 11am Dolores Park (19th and Dolores St.), San Francisco, International A.N.S.W.E.R. (415 )821-6545
Sunday, October 9, 4:00 PM East Bay Sanctuary Covenant Dinner, St. John’s Presbyterian Church, Berkeley. Call EBSC at (510) 540-5296 for details
Sunday, October 23 & Monday, October 24 United Nations 60th Anniversary Celebration, East Bay, various locations. For details contact UNA-USA East Bay Chapter at (510) 849-1752
The Ecumenical Peace Institute Annual Gathering is still in the planning stage. We will mail information as soon as it is available.
Empire Study Group
Faith-based Resistance Community
If you are interested in helping to plan a study group on empire, if you have material to suggest, if you want to be part of such a study group, call the Ecumenical Peace Institute office.
If you hope to develop a faith-based resistance community, call us.
Ecumenical Peace Institute, (510) 548-4141.
* * * * *
Weekly Vigils & Such
Sundays, 3:00 p.m. peace walk around Lake Merritt.
Tuesdays, Noon - 1:00 p.m. Oakland Federal Building, 1301 Clay Street, oppose the continued war on Iraq.
Wednesdays, 5:00 p.m. - 6:30 p.m. Castro Valley Peace & Justice Vigils, Castro Valley Blvd. & Redwood Rd.
Thursdays, Noon - 1:00 p.m. San Francisco Federal Building.
Thursdays, 4:30 - 5:30 p.m., Jackson, Mission, Foothill triangle, Hayward.
Fridays, Noon - 1:00 p.m. Women in Black Vigil, UC Berkeley, Bancroft at Telegraph.
Fridays, 5:30 - 7 p.m., corner of Mowry & Fremont, Fremont.
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