North Country Peace Builder
Vol. 53, No. 2, June 2002
Peace Activists Write of Fears in West Bank
By Khurram Saeed
The Rev. Richard Deats remembers dining on the balcony of his friends' home overlooking the holy city of Bethlehem, not far from the Church of the Nativity. Deats and members of Nyack-based Fellowship of Reconciliation, the oldest interfaith peace organization in the country, were visiting fellow peace activists Elaine Zoughbi, an American, and her husband, Zoughbi Zoughbi, a few years ago. He is director of Wi'am, the Palestinian Conflict Resolution Center in Bethlehem, a branch of FOR. Earlier this week, Deats received word, via e-mail, about the Zoughbis and life in the West Bank since Israeli soldiers entered the disputed territory a week ago.
Since the incursion, Deats has been getting a steady stream of e-mails from FOR contacts in the area -- Israeli and Arab, Jewish and non-Jewish -- including Bethlehem, Beit Sahour and Beit Jaia, chronicling what they consider aggressively violent action by the Israeli Defense Forces.
"The face of modern war increasingly hits children, women and old people," said Deats, FOR's director of communications and editor of its Fellowship magazine. "Most that you see on television are the bombers, the troops going in, the F-16s. The people behind these headlines are human beings caught in the crossfire."
The Zoughbi family recently felt the repercussions of war. Over the phone, Elaine Zoughbi told FOR national chairman Scott Kennedy, who then sent an e-mail to Deats, that her family awoke to the sounds of Israeli tanks passing their home and helicopter gunships firing near Manger Square.
Their home's windows were blown out by the shellings and their balcony, where Deats had once dined, was struck by bullets. Water service was interrupted when tanks broke a pipe on the hill above their home. A few blocks away from their home, more than 200 Palestinian gunmen were holed up inside the Church of the Nativity. "Many of us FOR people have been in their house. We have worshiped with them," said Deats. "When I heard about the F-16s hitting (Yasser Arafat's) police compounds, it didn't seem as terrible as when I heard what had been done to their neighborhood." Israel says its actions are necessary to stop a string of suicide bombings originating from the West Bank. In the past 18 months, more than 1,200 Palestinians and more than 400 Israelis have been killed in the conflict.
Deats said the e-mails, which he made available to The Journal News, revealed a growing sense of despair on the part of Palestinians and anger by some Israelis at the tactics of the Israeli Defense-Forcee. There are reports of unarmed peace protesters facing stun grenades, which cause loud explosions but little physical harm, and being hit by rubber bullets. Take for example an e-mail from Nota Golan, an Israeli citizen who stationed herself at Arafat's headquarters. Golan, who is Jewish, wrote that she and fellow peace activists from Italy, France and the United States "have come here to act as a human shield in case of any IDF attempt to break in." "The government should know that among those determined to face the soldiers unarmed and bar their way is also an Israeli from Tel Aviv," she wrote in an e-mail.
Raed Abusahlia, a Palestinian Catholic priest whom Deats visited last August, on Friday wrote of his experiences in Bethlehem after a 64-year-old mother and her 37-year-old son were shot to death at their home by Israeli troops. Abusahlia wrote that he spent hours trying to convince the soldiers to allow him and a family member of the pair to reach the bodies.
"I had to help him go out of the hell of his damaged house in which he lived for 30 hours with the dead and 1 1 members of his family," Abusahlia wrote in his e-mail. "We didn't ask the army to do miracles, we just wanted them to allow the ambulance of the Red Cross to transfer this family of Sami Abda from their damaged house to his brother's house in another part of the city in order to find a safe shelter and food." Deats, whose daughter, son-in-law and 11 grandchildren live in Jerusalem, said the e-mails had given him a more balanced view of the situation than what was being reported by the American press. Deats said many of FOR's contacts in Israel and Palestine were made in the past few years during their frequent trips.
In January 2001, its Interfaith Peacebuilders Delegation began to send groups regularly to live in Palestinian and Israeli homes, where they connected with peace activists on both sides of the conflict. The next delegation, of 1O to 18 people, leaves on Friday and will return April 26.Deats just received an e-mail from his friend, Noah Salameh, an FOR member living in Bethlehem. Salameh, who is Muslim, teaches human rights and conflict resolution and is a former Israeli prisoner, Deats said. Salameh wrote he was feeling dejected because food supplies were running low and, worst of all, his daughter, Lara, couldn't celebrate her birthday Friday.
"She will be 5 years old and I can't give her a gift or have a party or even a cake, " Salameh wrote in his e- mail Friday. "She asked me in the morning, Where is my gift, and she came to kiss me.... But I didn't know what to say to her, that she will not have a gift or a party, she doesn't understand what is a curfew or what means this shooting around us."
Under The Nuclear Shadow
by Arundhati Roy
from Dissident Voice, June 2, 2002.
This week as diplomats' families and tourists quickly disappeared, journalists from Europe and America arrived in droves. Most of them stay at the Imperial Hotel in Delhi. Many of them call me. Why are you still here, they ask, why haven't you left the city? Isn't nuclear war a real possibility? It is, but where shall I go?
If I go away and everything and every one, every friend, every tree, every home, every dog, squirrel and bird that I have known and loved is incinerated, how shall I live on? Who shall I love, and who will love me back? Which society will welcome me and allow me to be the hooligan I am, here, at home?
We've decided we're all staying. We've huddled together, we realize how much we love each other and we think what a shame it would be to die now. Life's normal, only because the macabre has become normal. While we wait for rain, for football, for justice, on TV the old generals and the eager boy anchors talk of first strike and second strike capability, as though they're discussing a family board game.
My friends and I discuss Prophecy, the film of the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, the dead bodies choking the river, the living stripped of their skin and hair, we remember Especially the man who just melted into the steps of the building and we imagine ourselves like that, as stains on staircases.
My husband's writing a book about trees. He has a section on how figs are pollinated, each fig by its own specialized fig wasp. There are nearly 1,000 different species of fig wasps. All the fig wasps will be nuked, and my husband and his book.
A dear friend, who is an activist in the anti-dam movement in the Narmanda Valley, is on indefinite iunger strike. Today is the twelfth day of her fast. She and the others fasting with her are weakening quickly. They are protesting because the government is bulldozing schools, felling forests, uprooting hand pumps, forcing people from their villages. What an act of faith and hope. But to a government comfortable with the notion of a wasted world, what's a wasted value?
Terrorists have the power to trigger a nuclear war. Non-violence is treated with contempt. Displacement, dispossession, starvation, poverty, disease, these are all just funny comic strip items now. Meanwhile, emissaries of the coalition against terror come and go preaching restraint. Tony Blair arrives to preach peace -- and on the side, to sell weapons to both India and Pakistan. The last question ever visiting journalist always asks, me: "Are you writing another book?"
That question mocks me. Another book? Right now when it looks as though all the music, the art, the architecture, the literature, the whole of human civilization means nothing to the monsters who run the world. What kind of book should I write? For now, just for now, for just a while pointlessness is my biggest enemy. That's what nuclear bombs do, whether they're used or not. They violate everything that is humane, they alter the meaning of life.
Why do we tolerate them? Why do we tolerate the men who use nuclear weapons to blackmail the entire human race?
Arundhati Roy of India is the author of the acclaimed novel, The God of Small Things (Harper-Perennial, 1997). Her nonfiction books are The Cost of Living (Modern Library, 1999) and Power Politics (South End Press, 2001). She is a leading anti-war and anti-corporate globalization activist.
The Importance of "Unofficial Civilian 'Diplomacy'"
by Don Irish
Thomas Jefferson contended that an "enlightened citizenry" is required to maintain democracy. Such civic knowledge seems woefully lacking presently in many segments of American society.
Numerous factors are responsible. Among them:
- Education institutions now seem to focus more on job preparation than on humanities, history, ethics, as vital for creating humans citizens.
- The major sources of "news" for most Americans are the commercial radio and TV stations. Much program time is given to "Infotainment," little for foreign affairs in depth. Government "handouts" are presented with little critical questioning. Investigative journalism and foreign correspondents have been reduced. Panelists rarely are persons who 'Think outside the conventional box," ask fundamental questions, challenge official assumptions.
- The U. S. government's penchant for secrecy has increased since WWII, even more so since 9/1 1. (Ed. note: The Freedom of Information Act is under attack by the administration.)
- The American news media have consolidated into 4 to 5 "mega-opolies" that control hundreds of TV and radio stations and other sources. Congressional legislation and FCC regulations have permitted expanded concentration of communications power in recent years.
One example only: CBS is owned by Viacom, with 200 affiliated TV stations and 180 radio stations. Viacom publishes 2000 titles annually; owns Paramount Films and Blockbuster Video.
Such vertical integration makes news control from top to bottom. There are numerous alternative sources of information, but many Americans are not aware of them. Some lack financial capacity to subscribe, and local libraries often don't include them.
Vital sources of information are those nonofficial citizens who go abroad on fact-finding endeavors, alone or with NGO delegations. Some travel to "forbidden destinations" in defiance of our government's regulations that can penalize such citizens with imprisonment and heavy fines.
In the earlier days of our Republic, citizens could travel freely to any country that would admit them, and return home again without penalties. Article 13, sentence 2, of the UN Universal Declaration of Human Rights states: Everyone has the right to leave any country, including his (sic) own, and to return to his country." At the World Conference on Human Rights in Vienna, June 1993, Secretary of State Warren Christopher asserted: The United States will never join those who would undermine the Universal Declaration ....
However, in recent years, especially since WWII, the government has denied such "freedom to travel" to citizens repeatedly, with regard to North Vietnam, North Korea, Libya, Cuba, Iraq, among others. Many individuals and NGOS, not wishing to legitimate these violations of international law by seeking permission from the Treasury Department to go and return, have challenged such prohibitions directly. Without the "unofficial civilian diplomacy," Americans would be exposed almost entirely just to the government's facts and "interpretations," as information about such designated foreign nations.
Former U.S. Attorney General Ramsey Clark has visited both Iraq and Cuba. Kathy Kelly's Voices in the Wilderness organization has led hundreds of citizens to Iraq (including several Minnesotans), verifying the million civilian deaths caused by the UN-US embargo. Our local Vets for Peace chapter has conducted a water project, repairing two treatment facilities that serve over 20,000 people. Pastors for Peace has delivered computers, tools, and other materials to Central America, especially Nicaragua; and Clark and Voices have also delivered medical supplies to Iraq and Cuba.
John Swormley, political scientist and former FOR staff member, has been to North Korea twice in recent years, writing and speaking widely about knowledge gained. Jesse Jackson visited some Islamic Middle East nations and secured the release of several political prisoners. He visited Cuba in 1989, bringing about some relaxations for "religious believers" of mainline churches, well before the Pope's visit to Cuba.
Thousands of American citizens traveled with fact-finding groups to areas of conflict or world concern for which travel was not officially restricted. The Fellowship of Reconciliation's Task Force on Latin America and the Caribbean (FOR-TFLAC) sent six international delegations of inquiry to Panama in the 1990s. They investigated and monitored the U.S. compliance with the 1977 Carter-Torrijos Canal Treaty, extracting formerly "secret" weapon testing information via the Freedom of Information Act.
Troops were to be removed, bases closed, and toxic debris eliminated. (The toxics requirement was not satisfied.) The FOR-TFLAC sent four international fact-finding groups to Puerto Rico/Vieques. They secured data and provided support to the Puerto Rican colony's opposition to the U.S. military's continued bombing since 1946 near the 10,000-civilian community.
Medea Benjamin's Global Exchange has arranged for many U.S. citizens to visit countries in the "two-thirds" world, observing the consequences of First Worlds' commercial and governmental policies/practices. Witness for Peace nationally, and Augsburg's Center for Global Education locally, have conducted thousands of Americans to Haiti, the war-torn Central American countries of Guatemala, El Salvador, and Nicaragua, plus countries in Africa and elsewhere. These citizens returned home to share their acquired information with their families, neighbors, churches, schools, civic groups; helping alter public opinion and pressuring Congress to alter U.S. policies. (In violation of such legislation, President Reagan acted covertly in Central America.)
Amy Goodman, of Democracy Now radio, has courageously been twice to East Timor (once being seriously hurt for her presence). She brings eye witnesses directly to national community radio audiences. The Christian Peacemakers in Israel-Palestine have upset the Israeli military by their audacious challenges to the tanks, bypassing them to provide nonviolent support to those on the receiving end of the firepower.
Former President Jimmy Carter, recently in Cuba for 5 days, used his granting of free access and free speech in Cuba to address the Cubans and convey his impressions and recommendations to Americans. (Regrettably, President Bush stated in advance that no matter what Carter might report, there would be no change in U.S. policy toward Cuba.) The Carter Center in Atlanta also has monitored elections in Latin America, Africa, and Asia, reporting on those political processes.
These unofficial civilian diplomats have served important civic functions in helping American citizens understand other nations in a conflict-ridden world. They have returned home with useful and alternative perspectives about the roles of NUMERO UNO internationally. It is important also for our children to understand that we were not content "not to know" and "not to act" now and for their future. These deputations, "legal" or not, enable all of us to view other sides, to discern the humanity of those our nation has defined as the "Other."
Tom Barry and John Lindsay-Poland, Inside Panama, 1996 (FOR-TFLAC)
Ramsey Clark et al., Challenge to Genocide, 1996 (Voices in the Wilderness, re Iraq)
Janet Duckworth and Mercedes Guillot (Trans.), Missionaries of Dignity, 1994 (Pastors for Peace)
Ed Griffin-Nolan, Witness for Peace, 1991 (re Nicaragua WfP teams)
Liam Mahony and Luis Enrique Eguren, Unarmed Bodyguards: International Accompaniment for the Protection of Human Rights, 1997 (Peace Brigades International)
Mario Murillo, Islands of Resistance, Puerto Rico Vieques, and U.S. Policy, 2001 (FOR-TFLAC)
Karin L. Stanford, Beyond the Boundaries, Rev. Jesse Jackson in International Affairs, 1997 (Cuba, Middle East, etc.)
Prof. Don Irish writes an article for each issue of this newsletter. He chooses his own topic and whittles his often complex and what could be lengthy subjects into 1+ pages. appreciate his writing very much.
His subject and writing in this issue have given me one of those "a-ha" moments. I do know what he writes about, of the importance of citizens seeing with their own eyes and hearing with their own ears the scenes and stories of the people in countries our government has forbidden us to visit.
I have been on some of these trips myself. And I have known that the purpose of the trip is to offer hope and encouragement to the people visited, and to report back to Americans, to help change U.S. policy. And yet I have also believed the government's pronouncement that it forbids travel to certain countries because they are unsafe for Americans (which in some instances certainly is true), and that it has the right to do so. Don's article makes clear the more important reason--that citizens will learn too much about U.S. conduct in and lies about other places, and will cause too much trouble at home. This did happen during the war in Nicaragua, when the mainline churches began sending delegations to Central America. It was hard to accuse conservative religious people of being radicals.
Don's article has given me new appreciation for all those who defy the government and travel and report back. And awakened understanding of the importance of sending young people in particular, those generations who must understand the world better if the world is to become a better place for all creatures, including nonhumans. All the groups Don mentions take young people if they can, but even low-cost travel is expensive, Therefore I urge all of us to help support sending young people on these fact-finding trips.
By Laura Wilson
Sometimes it takes a pilgrimage to discover a hidden part of us. And sometimes it takes two. I had been in this part of Pennsylvania once before, eighteen months ago to the day. I appreciated the beauty of the winding roads, which always leave me wondering about the path "up ahead." I saw a place where the future begins, where difficult questions could be asked, where hope could be waged on a world with rough edges.
That was the first time I ventured to the mountains of eastern Pennsylvania. I was beginning a 1,000-mile walk on the Appalachian Trail. I began by crossing the Delaware Water Gap, carrying a backpack, sleeping bag and small tent. At the time, I overlooked one quiet winding road. Just 5 miles from the place where I began my journey, there is a beautiful place called Kirkridge Retreat Center, thoughtfully perched on the side of a mountain.
This winter I finally came across, and noticed, the road that led me to the Fellowship of Reconciliation and Kirkridge. This time my pilgrimage consisted of a 1,000-mile flight and a fabulous week with the PTI community. Once again, I looked to the future, asked those tough questions, and remained hopeful. But unlike the days on the Appalachian Trail, the journey was much less a solitary one. I found a group of talented and enthusiastic people, each of whom brought a unique perspective and two feet with which to begin walking.
There were 30 people in attendance at the 2001 National Peacemaker Training Institute, and we spent our days working out strategies for spreading peace in our world. To write it now seems like such an impossible and idealistic goal. But we started small, by sharing our knowledge, and phrasing our questions. From there we began to brainstorm, teach and grow in many different ways and to many different ends. All of this was layered on top of an appreciation for our histories, both collective and individual, and a love of nature and the beautiful world that we are so lucky to share. As the week came to a close, we remembered that each of us would be returning to our homes and day-to-day workplaces. But we would take with us many things -- friends, ideas, renewed energy, and an experience that would be hard to forget.
As for me, I brought back the memory of those winding roads. I've heard about the road that led to the formation of the Fellowship of Reconciliation, the one that Muriel Lester followed during her many years as a peace activist, and the road that's being carved out to make way for the PTI program.
I look forward to future strolls and hikes side by side with fellow Peacemakers. Thank you to FOR and to all the people who have paved the way; to Minnesota FOR for supporting the PTI project; to peacemakers worldwide for sharing in the vision and the effort. Lets keep walking.
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North Country Peace Builder
Produced quarterly (September, December, March and June) by the Executive Committee of the Minnesota Fellowship of Reconciliation. Send article, letters, and comments to Leslie Reindl <mord001 @ umn.edu>, editor, in care of
Leslie Reindl, editor
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