SHINE the LIGHT
As this issue goes to print, CPTers Tom Fox and Jim Loney, along with delegation
members Norman Kember and Harmeet Sooden are still missing in Iraq. CPTer Greg
Rollins (Surrey, BC) was in Iraq when his co-workers were kidnapped on November
26, 2005. In an interview originally published in Canada’s Embassy Magazine
(www.embassymag.ca) on February 15, Rollins shares a glimpse of what those first
few weeks were like for the team in Baghdad. Excerpts reprinted with permission.
At first, November in Iraq was nothing out of the ordinary. Almost every day I heard explosions and gunshots. I spoke often with Iraqis who were suffering from the effects of poor infrastructure and the combined violence of the Multinational Forces, the Iraqi security forces and the insurgency.
Then, on November 26, I received a phone call – kidnappers had abducted my four colleagues. At first I thought it was a joke. I asked our translator to repeat what he said. When I realized he was serious, I informed my teammates and we went straight to work.
The next two weeks were a blur of non-stop activity and sleepless nights – making phone calls, giving interviews, writing releases, holding frequent team meetings, consulting with our advisors, making major decisions under enormous pressure. We didn’t have time to cook so our neighbors brought us dinner.
From both inside and outside Iraq, friends and strangers of various religions and ethnicities offered us help. Groups throughout the Muslim world, like the Canadian Islamic Congress, religious and political leaders in Palestine and the Muslim Scholars Associa- tion in Iraq, made strong statements on behalf of our colleagues, urging their release. The remarkable outpouring of support was very encouraging and did a lot to dispel certain stereotypes about Muslim / Christian relations.
I began to listen in a different way to the stories and ad- vice of Iraqis who were themselves once kidnapped or knew someone who was. Their stories were not new to me, but previously I had listened so I could tell their stories to others. Now I listened to learn.
Believing the kidnappers might watch our web site, we posted messages to them. Our Iraqi friends advised us to ad- dress the kidnappers as “brothers holding our colleagues.” They said that is the way it is done in Iraq. It is respectful. As I wrote those messages I sat in amazement. I had never imagined writing to kidnap- pers let alone calling them my brothers.
The videos of our colleagues that aired on TV broke our hearts, but made us glad to see they were alive. That gave us hope. We watched and listened intently as Tom Fox and Norman Kember gave statements from their captivity about the need to end the occupation of Iraq. Many people might think their words were forced on them by their captors, but we knew our friends were speaking from their own convic- tions.
Then came the hardest part – the waiting. The video statements from the kidnappers stopped. There were fewer statements of support. We grew restless and tense.
For the first time in two long weeks we had some down time. At first I resisted turning my thoughts to anything but my missing friends. Then, after a while, I realized that if I didn’t think about myself, even for a moment, I would burn out. So I sat down and read a fantasy book. Other teammates took time out to play computer games or listen to music.
Some nights we allowed ourselves to go to bed early. Some mornings we stayed in bed late. Some days I found that laughter with my teammates was more renewing and refreshing than a good night’s sleep.
As the weeks wore on, our team decided to get back into more of our regular work. We believed our missing colleagues would want that. More CPTers joined the team and at the request of Iraqi human rights groups we resumed the work of escorting Iraqis who were in danger, listening to people’s stories, and con- necting with Iraqi peace groups.
It was then that I made the difficult decision to leave Iraq. My depar- ture flight had been scheduled before the kidnapping occurred and, although I really wanted to stay, I had been there long enough. The team had plenty of people and there was nothing unique that I could have contributed at that point. If I had stayed it would not have been for the sake of my team or my missing colleagues, but for my own desire to see my colleagues released, my need to be there when it hap- pened. So I left, confident in my heart that my friends are unharmed and that we will work together again soon.
by Peggy Gish
Many people are worried about our safety and ability to work in Iraq especially since the kidnapping of Jim, Tom, Harmeet, and Norman.
It is easier to talk about not letting fear control you than it is to actually do it. It takes some struggling to give the underlying tension and fear over to God and to trust God’s care for us and our four colleagues. We ask ourselves daily where to draw the line between continuing the work we feel called to do and caution. Should we visit Iraqi friends, attend local worship services, or meet with particular organizations we worked with in the past?
Our challenge is to be cautious, but not allow fear to dominate. We seek a healthy acceptance of the possibilities of hostility toward us, knowing that it has always been dangerous for us to be here. On the other hand we want to avoid letting a mind-set of fear shape our perceptions of what is happening around us.
When suspicious thinking takes over our minds and hearts we become closed to love that others want to give us. It prevents us from opening up spaces in difficult or dangerous situations for God to enter unex- pectedly and work the miracle of transformation.
We are encouraged when Iraqis, who continue taking risks in their work for justice, relate to us with openness and trust. They show us that working out of trust is not only a gift, it is a necessity for building unity and resolving conflicts in the midst of violence.
by Tom Fox
CPTer Tom Fox, currently held captive in Iraq, wrote the following reflection in October 2004.
“If an attacker inspires anger or fear in my heart, it means that I have not purged myself of violence. To realize nonviolence means to feel within you its strength – soul force – to know God. A person who has known God will be incapable of harboring anger or fear within, no matter how overpowering the cause for that anger or fear may be.”
- Gandhi speaking to Badshah Kahn’s Khudai Khidmatgar officers; “A Man to Match His Mountains” by Eknath Easwaran, 1985.
When I allow myself to become angry,
I disconnect from God and connect with the evil force that empowers fighting.
When I allow myself to become fearful, I disconnect from God and connect with
the evil force that encourages flight.
The French theologian Rene Girard envisions Satan as “a parasite on what God creates by imitating God in a manner that is jealous, grotesque, perverse and as contrary as possible to the loving and obedient imitation of Jesus.” (“See Satan Falling like Lightning,” 2001)
If I am not to fight or flee in the face of armed aggression, be it the overt aggression of the army or the subversive aggression of the terrorist, then what am I to do? “Stand firm against evil” (Matthew 5:39, translated by Walter Wink) seems to be the guidance of Jesus and Gandhi in order to stay connected with God.
Here in Iraq I struggle with that second form of aggression. I have visual references and written models of CPTers standing firm against the overt aggression of an army, be it regular or paramilitary. But how do you stand firm against a car-bomber or a kidnapper?
Clearly, the soldier disconnected from God needs to have me fight. Just as clearly, the terrorist disconnected from God needs to have me flee. Both are willing to kill me using different means to achieve the same end, that end being to increase the parasitic power of Satan within God’s good creation. (cont. p. 4)
It seems easier somehow to confront anger within my heart than it is to confront fear. But if Jesus and Gandhi are right then I am not to give in to either. I am to stand firm against the kidnapper as I am to stand firm against the soldier.
Does that mean I walk into a raging battle to confront the soldiers? Does that mean I walk the streets of Baghdad with a sign saying “American for the Taking?” No to both counts. But if Jesus and Gandhi are right, then I am asked to risk my life, and if I lose it, to be as forgiving as they were when murdered by the forces of Satan.
Standing firm is a struggle, but I’m willing to keep working at it.
by Michele Naar-Obed
The month of March marks three years of U.S. war and occupation in Iraq. With millions of U.S. dollars allocated for reconstruction and stabilization of the country, Iraq is still in the dark.
In Baghdad we averaged about five hours of electricity a day during the month of January. One week we went thirty hours with no electricity at all. The average Iraqi has no control over a basic necessity that, for the rest of the developed world, is as simple as flipping a switch.
Lack of electricity is not the only thing that keeps Iraq in the dark. The lack of security puts most people into social and psychological darkness. The occupation has played on the worst fears of the Iraqi people, the fear of each other.
Instead of helping to bridge the sectarian divisions, the occupation has widened them. Instead of fostering relationship-building and reconciliation, it has created mistrust and hatred.
Many Iraqis tell us they believe the occupation authorities intentionally reinforced this kind of alienation. Sectarioan militias have infiltrated the Iraqi police force. Rule of law does not exist. Lurking in the shadows are the ever-present U.S. military advisors who excel in teaching counterinsurgency techniques designed to create, fear, mistrust and confusion.
In my own dark night of the soul, I asked an Iraqi friend what good CPT does. He said, “We need you here. You expose injustice. You shine the light on the evil.”
My mind raced to all the other Iraqi friends who bring light to these grim times – the human rights workers who train teenagers in nonviolent conflict resolution; the Catholic priest who continues to preach the good news of the Gospel of love even though churches have become targets of violence; the Muslim Peacemaker Team that strives to build bridges and heal relationships; children’s laughter; genuine smiles from strangers; greetings of peace with hands over hearts; voices of hope in the midst of insanity.
“The light shines in the darkness and the darkness has not overcome it.” - John 1:5
by Michele Naar-Obed and Peggy Gish
In the wake of the February 22 bombing of the Shi’a shrine in Samarra, media headlines reported widespread sectarian violence, ethnic hatred and impending civil war. CPTers have listened to gun battles, watched the smoke rise from a car bombing down the block and sat with neighbors as they wept in despair.
However, that is not all the news that’s fit to print. Every day the team receives reports pointing to Sunni/Shi’a unity. In neighborhoods that have been hotbeds of violence, Sunni and Shi’a have worked together to repair and rebuild damaged mosques. Shi’a Iraqis have protected Sunni mosques in their neighborhoods. Sunni and Shi’a marched together from the Al Mansour neighborhood to the Khadamiya district in Baghdad calling for peace. In a Basra shrine, Sunni and Shi’a have gathered to pray together.
Many here believe that those who bombed the Al-Askari shrine were trying to incite more division and hatred between Shi’a and Sunni. But many peace-loving Iraqis are resisting retaliation and “getting in the way” of sectarian violence.
Iraq and Jordan team members December 2005 - February 2006 were: Anita David (Chicago, IL), Jenny Elliott (St. Louis, MO), Peggy Gish (Athens, OH), Kim Lamberty (Washington, DC), Michele Naar-Obed (Duluth, MN), Maxine Nash (Waukon, IA), Sheila Provencher (South Bend, IN), Beth Pyles (Fairmont, WV), Greg Rollins (Surrey, BC), Allan Slater (Lakeside, ON); Missing: Tom Fox (Clearbrook, VA), Norman Kember (Middlesex, UK), Jim Loney (Toronto, ON), Harmeet Sooden (Auckland, NZ).
CPT gratefully acknowledges the tre- mendous outpouring of supportive messages in response to the kidnapping of our colleagues in Iraq and the relentless persistence of all who carry on the work to end the occupation and seek justice for 14,600 Iraqis still detained in U.S. custody.
Yemen Statement (excerpts):
We, the undersigned, call for the
immediate release of the four Western peace activists who were kidnapped in
Iraq [November 26,2005]. We have been saddened by the kidnapping of these peace
activists whose only mission in Iraq has been to express solidarity with the
Iraqi people and see for themselves the devastating effects of the U.S. invasion
of Iraq. They were intending to return home to inform the public opinion in
their own countries about the destruction and havoc brought about by the invasion
of Iraq by the USA and its allies.
We have come to learn that the Christian NGO to which these four activists belonged is a peace-loving organization that is well-known for its support for the just causes of oppressed nations around the world...
Such peace activists should have been welcomed into Iraq and treated as honorable guests instead of being kidnapped and used as a bargaining chip. Neither the hostages nor the organization they represent possess the means of forcing the occupation authorities to free the Iraqis held in its detention centers across Iraq.
While fully supporting the right of the Iraqi people to resist occupation ... we denounce as illegitimate any act of aggression against innocent civilians irrespective of their religion or nationality. We therefore call for the immediate release of these four and all other Western civilians kidnapped in Iraq...
Sheikh Yusuf Al-Qaradawi, Chairman of Al-Quds International Foundation; Sheikh Faysal Mawlawi, Secretary General of the Islamic Group in Lebanon; Sheikh Harith Al-Dari, Head of Association of Muslim Scholars, Iraq; Khalid Mishaal, Head of Hamas Political Bureau, Palestine; Musa Abu Marzuq, Deputy Head of Hamas Political Bureau, Palestine; Maan Bashur, Secretary General of the Arab Nationalist Congress; Hasan Hudruj, Hezbollah, Lebanon; Mahmud Al-Qumati, Hezbollah, Lebanon; Father Antwan Dhao, Lebanon; Sheikh Abdulhadi Awang, Islamic Party, Malaysia; Professor Aleef-ud-Din Turabi, Kashmir; Dr. Mohamed M. O. Jamjoom, Businessman, Saudi Arabia; Dr. Khalid Abdurrahman Al-Ajami, University Professor, Saudi Arabia; Dr. Muhsin Al-Awaji, Islamic writer and thinker, Saudi Arabia; Dr. Abd Al-Quddus Al-Midwahi, Yemen; Muhammad bin Ali Ijlan, Yemen; Dr. Abdullatif Al Mahmud, Islamic Society, Bahrain; Abdulmunem Jalal Al-Mir, Palestine Solidarity Association, Bahrain; Dr. Muhammad Al-Sheikh Mahmud Siyam, former Imam of Al-Aqsa Mosque, Palestine; Khalid Mahmud Khan, Pakistan; Dr. Zafrul-Islam Khan, India; Dr. Azzam Tamimi, Muslim Association of Britain, UK; Haitham Yassin Abu Al-Raghib, Jordan; Saud Abu Mahfuz, Jordan; Engineer Boulafaat Abdulhamid, Algeria.
Interfaith Statement (excerpts):
To those who are holding the Christian
Peacemaker Team in Iraq, and to people everywhere of all Traditions of Faith
We affirm what all the traditions teach that trace their spiritual origin to Abraham. Judaism, Christianity, and Islam all teach explicitly that to kill even one human being – even more strongly one who is doing no harm, most especially one who is seeking peace and nurturing human bodies and communities – is to destroy a world. This teaching applies to all innocent Iraqis and foreigners who have been killed or taken away in Iraq out of anger against the U.S. Occupation, and it applies with special clarity and strength to the members of the Christian Peacemaker Team who are being held in Iraq.
Like us, they too opposed the U.S. attack. They came to serve the Iraqi people. They came not only to urge peace but also to live peace.
We who have opposed the U.S. invasion and occupation of Iraq call on all...to seek the release of these people into safety and freedom...
...Once again, we call for a swift end to the U.S. occupation of Iraq and for peaceful action by the entire human community to assist Iraqis to achieve their own self-government. And we send our loving prayers to those who have become victims of their own loving commitment to peace, justice, and healing.
• Dr. Sayeed Syeed, Head of the Islamic Society of North America
• Rev. Robert Edgar, General Secretary of the National Council of Churches
• Rabbi Arthur Waskow, Rabbinic Director of The Shalom Center (among others)
by Kaaren Olsen
Kaaren Olsen, an Anishinaabe grandmother, trapper and de-colonizer, is a good friend of CPTers who have worked in Kenora and Red Lake, Ontario. She writes about Jim Loney (still being held in Iraq) and the team’s undoing racism work in Kenora last fall. CPT continues to experiment with a model of placing small, short-term teams in Kenora several times a year to support the ongoing work of the Anishinaabe Peace and Justice Coalition. The current team arrived on February 6 and will stay until April 23.
For the Kenora Team, the abduction of the four CPTers in Iraq must have been particularly difficult. Jim Loney has been an instrumental component of that team.
I saw Jim the first weekend the team came back to Kenora last October when I helped with a de-colonizing workshop. I was impressed by his quiet wisdom, his ability to analyze a situation, his patient listening, his willingness to empathize and to understand. It seemed to me that he embodied the heart and soul of CPT, its aspirations and its humanity.
I saw the Kenora team take on the task of undoing racism with the same commitment they give to all their responsibilities to end violence. I saw a lot of consultation take place, a lot of talking and planning. They were open in their efforts, sometimes controversial, but there was always learning for everyone, carrying the work forward. The willingness to take risks was balanced with great care.
The abduction of one of their teammates in Iraq could have sent things into a tailspin, but their faith and their training taught them to put one foot in front of the other during times of great trauma and build strength from each crisis.
I was in Kenora during the last weekend that the CPTers were there, December 10 and 11, 2005. I was privileged to spend time with them, to draw on their strength. I went with them to the Sunday service at the First Baptist Church. I had not been to a service there for over 40 years. I went to high school in Kenora, boarding with a family that went to that church. Old memories, old feelings came back as I entered the sanctuary. But mostly I felt new feelings of acceptance, of camaraderie, of welcome. I paid attention to the songs and the prayers. Thoughts of the four CPTers abducted in Iraq were constant.
The Kenora CPTers delivered the sermon, each speaking about their spiritual journeys, how they came to Kenora, what the work there means to them.
At the end of the service a man stood up from the congregation. He welcomed the six of us Anishinaabe women who “had the courage” to come to this church service and went on to talk about what he was learning from CPT.
He said he had never thought of himself as racist but he was learning that, in fact, he was. He said that if any of his relatives were injured or murdered on the streets of Kenora, he would surely take notice. He said that, because it was happening to Anishinaabe people, he did not notice. It took the work of CPT for his eyesto be opened.
In the midst of the vulnerability that many of us were feeling – just one day after the December 10th deadline set by the kidnappers for our friends in Iraq had passed – the power with which the speakers that morning at First Baptist Church gave their messages unleashed torrents of tears. Tears of release and healing and hope overcame tears of fear and anxiety.
One step at a time forward in the great and monumental task for peace and justice – that is the way it has been over these weeks; people supporting one another, writing letters and e-mails of hope and inspiration.
The interconnectedness of all these messages are part of a world-wide system of peace and love. Jim’s colleagues and friends and family are doing him proud. This I know to be true.
In a rare occurrence, three officials
from the U.S. State Department and the U.S. Embassy in Jerusalem visited the
small West Bank community of at-Tuwani on January 20.
Meeting with Palestinian villagers and members of a CPT delegation, the officials listened to concerns about the Israeli government’s plan to build a “security wall” along a nearby Israeli bypass road. If constructed, the wall would cut off villagers’ access to the greater West Bank.
The proposed “security wall” along Route 317 – combined with the proposed “security barrier” along the 1949 Armistice Line at the southern edge of the West Bank – would create a separate and potentially isolated Palestinian region in the South Hebron Hills. The Israeli occupying forces plan to impose this bordered region on the local Palestinian population in disregard of their needs or social structure.
“In a situation where settler violence and military-imposed restrictions on movement already oppress the Palestinian population, the proposed security wall would deny hundreds of Palestinians access to their land and effectively imprison the people living in at-Tuwani and surrounding villages,” said CPTer Matthew Chandler.
Route 317 is a major east-west Israeli bypass road in the southern West Bank. It crosses the Palestinian route from the South Hebron Hills through at-Tuwani to Yatta, the nearest Palestinian city.
A report prepared by CPT and the Italian peace group, Operation Dove (available at www.cpt.org/hebron/hebron.php) describes the harmful effects of the proposed wall on Palestinians – tanker trucks carrying life-giving water to villagers would not get through; diesel fuel and repair parts for the village generator
(the only source of electricity) would be stopped; crops, herds and goods could not be transported to market; farmers could not drive their tractors between their fields that lie on both sides of Route 317.
“We’ve lost the basic things in life – the land, our sheep, almost everything,” said one resident.
“The people here suffer,” another villager said. “We have no transportation, no phones. We face an occupation that won’t allow us to build a toilet.”
According to the Israeli military, the concrete wall would run along the northern side of Route 317 for 14 kilometers (9 miles) between the Israeli settlements of Carmel and Tene in order to “control the flow of Palestinian traffic on and across Route 317” so as to “prevent terrorist attacks against Israeli citizens.” Construction has already begun on the western end of the wall near Tene.
As lawyers work through Israeli courts to stop the proposed plan, the people of at-Tuwani are strategizing ways to prevent further construction on the wall.
ACTION: Contact Your Legislators
• Express your concern about the heavy human cost of this new wall being built in the South Hebron Hills and the effect it will have on already-strained relations between Israel and Palestine.
• Urge them to ask the U.S. State Department / Foreign Affairs Canada for their assessment of how the wall on Route 317 will impact the lives of Palestinians.
U.S. State Department, Office of Israel and Palestinian Affairs Tel: 202-647-2267; Fax: 202-736-4461
Foreign Affairs Canada; Tel: 1-800-387-3124; 613-996-8885
• Direct them to CPT’s report at www.cpt.org/hebron/
A barrage of automatic gunfire rattled
at-Tuwani on Friday evening, February 10. CPTers immediately called Israeli
police before approaching the scene.
Witnesses saw approximately six figures in the dark on the eastern hillside in at-Tuwani not far from the Israeli settlement of Ma’on.
“The first shots were very near to my house,” said one Palestinian. “I went out with my brother to look. When we got close, they shouted bad words at us and began shooting again, so we ran away.”
As CPTers neared the area, four or five more rounds rang out from the edge of the trees around the settlement outpost of Havot Ma’on (Hill 833). “The men were shouting (in Arabic), ‘Settlers! Settlers!’” CPTer Matthew Chandler reported.
Palestinians in at-Tuwani have suffered frequent attacks by Israeli settlers from both Ma’on settlement and the outpost on Hill 833. Just two nights earlier, on February 8, settlers uprooted olive trees and destroyed wheat and barley fields near at-Tuwani.
About 45 minutes later, CPTers Art Gish and Sarah MacDonald encountered an army jeep on Route 317, the Israeli bypass road near at-Tuwani. The army insisted that soldiers had fired warning shots while on foot patrol and claimed that no settlers were involved.
Israeli police arrived on the scene an hour after CPTers placed the first call. The officers argued with witnesses, asserting that only the army fired the shots, while the witnesses insisted that settlers were there.
One of the officers went with Chandler and three witnesses to see some of the bullet casings left on the ground. The officer picked up two shells and put them in his pocket, but refused to search the rest of the area.
The next morning, CPTers and residents of at-Tuwani found five more bullet shells at the scene.
The army commander also denied settler involvement. He claimed that he ordered a group of his soldiers to do a foot patrol around Hill 833. As the soldiers entered at-Tuwani, some people came close and the soldiers identified themselves as army. The people did not move back, so the soldiers fired warning shots into the air.
The commander declined to give any details on how many soldiers were on the patrol, how many shots they fired, when they fired or from where.
The people of At-Tuwani are filing complaints against the army and trying to convince the police to complete an investigation.
Palestine team members serving in at-Tuwani and Hebron December - February: Kristin Anderson (Willmar, MN), Bill Baldwin (Ottawa, ON), Christy Bischoff (Bradford, England), Matt Chandler (Springfield, OR), David Corcoran (Des Plaines, IL), Jenny Elliott (St. Louis, MO), Art Gish (Athens, OH), Bob Gross (N. Manchester, IN), Tracy Hughes (Miamisburg, OH), Diane Janzen (Calgary, AB), Bourke Kennedy (Skaneateles, NY), Amy Knickrehm (Chicago, IL), Kim Lamberty (Washington, DC), Jerry Levin (Birmingham, AL), John Lynes (E. Sussex, England), Sarah MacDonald (Iowa City, IA), Barbara Martens (Ruthven, ON), Rich Meyer (Millersburg, IN), Lorin Peters (San Leandro, CA), Grace Pleiman (New York, NY), Sonia Robbins - intern, Dianne Roe (Corning, NY), Harriet Taylor (Germantown, MD), Kathie Uhler (New York, NY), Diana Zimmer- man (Baltimore, MD). Delegation members January 12-24 were: Glenna Anderson (St. Louis, MO), Grace Boyer (Jacksonville, FL), Joyce Cassel (Oak Park, IL), Janita Daggy (Deerfield, VA), Tana Durnbaugh (Elgin, IL), Susanna Farahat (Westminster, MD), Bob Gross (N. Manchester, IN), Lauree Hersch Meyer (Rushville, NY), Richard Klinedinst (N. Liberty, IN), Jeffrey Miller (Goshen, IN), Daniel Rudy (Mt. Airy, MD), Nicci Small (N. Manchester, IN), Michael Waas Smith (Mt. Pleasant, MI), Paul Sparks (Diamond Bar, CA), David Waas (N. Manchester, IN), and Mike Weaver (Gap, PA)
Hundreds of CPT members and supporters
across Canada, the UK, and the USA participated in a two-week cam- paign to
“Shine the Light” on torture, hostage-taking and abuse of detainees.
The January 15-29 campaign was part of CPT’s ongoing effort to expose
the shad- owy scourge of war and end the U.S. occupation of Iraq.
The January 15 campaign launch coincided with the birthday of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. whose prophetic 1967 Riverside speech against the Vietnam war inspired the banner used by vigilers in Chicago – “This Madness Must Cease!” Participants in CPT’s winter training stood hooded and barefoot on crates in damp, sub-freezing weather during an hour-long silent prayer vigil for Iraqi detainees outside Senate offices.
In Ontario, the campaign of 14 daily vigils culmi- nated on January 29 with a 300-person march through central Toronto to the U.S. Consulate. Five people dressed in orange jumpsuits and black hoods led the procession representing the 14,600 Iraqis illegally de- tained by occupation forces. Participants carried pho- tographs of Iraqi detainees and of the four CPTers kidnapped in Baghdad on November 26.
In Washington, DC, daily processions began at institutions that bear key responsibility for the war in Iraq and ended with a prayer ser- vice at the White House. Partici- pants from a dozen states and provinces, led by a hooded figure representing all those held captive by war and occupa- tion, encircled the Department of Homeland Security, the International Monetary Fund, the World Bank, Andrews Air Force Base, the State Department, the FBI, the Justice Department, the IRS, the Pentagon, a U.S. Army Recruiting Center, the headquarters of de- fense contractor Lockheed Martin, the U.S. Capitol, the Veterans Administration, and the CIA.
CPTers and supporters in Colorado Springs, Colo- rado have vigiled every day over the noon hour since December 7. The “Shine the Light” campaign pro- vided a useful focus for their public witness. Reservist Genie Durland says, “We continue to gather each day – sometimes two or three of us, sometimes ten or twelve. We know that Tom, Jim, Norman and Harmeet would want us to do so. We dedicate our witness to them with the hope that one day we will be reunited with them and share all that went forward while they were taken away from us. And isn’t that what Jesus called us to do when he was taken away?”
by Gene Stoltzfus
On the sidewalk beside the Pentagon,
a mass of civilian and uniformed employees streamed past us throughout the late
afternoon. Twenty-five heavily armed Pentagon Protective Service agents pushed
our little group of seven further and further away from the crowds – off
the sidewalk, behind a fence, onto a lawn, like Iraqi citizens pushed from their
streets in Baghdad by huge tanks.
We stood there – silently, prayerfully – as hundreds of state-supported defenders of freedom passed by on their way from an office to a meeting or a shift change.
That morning the Washington Post reported a massive increase in appropriations for secret units like the Special Forces and Navy Seals. As I watched the crowd of Pentagon employees, I wondered who among them might be directing and commanding that process.
My mind went from this temple of modern warriors to their colleagues I had seen clothed in flak vests and armor in Baghdad; to the 2300 of them who will never walk these streets again; to the tens of thousands whose lives are broken because their souls were not meant for warrior campaigns designed in the Pentagon. I prayed for their healing.
Then I looked at the hooded one in our midst, tethered by a rope to another member in our group, simulating images of detainees in Iraq, Afghanistan, Guantanamo and secret prisons that span the globe. I noticed that the throngs passing by looked carefully at our signs but dropped their gaze when they saw the hooded one.
By the time our prayer service ended, the Pentagon agents had created a silent, empty space between us and the swarm of this day’s foot soldiers. That empty space held a sacred quality, an interim safe place where the Divine could remind us all – holy warriors and holy peacemakers – of the freedom and hope of the Light.
At dusk on Thursday, December 29,
an Israeli military patrol invaded CPT’s Hebron office and apartment for
the fourth time in three weeks and ordered police to arrest all five CPTers
present. While the CPTers were in custody, their office was forcibly entered
and four computers, one videotape, two cameras and three cell phones were taken.
Throughout the month of December, the team had been documenting and filming home invasions by this same six-person Israeli military patrol. Each time CPTers filmed the patrol in a Palestinian home in the old city of Hebron, soldiers subsequently invaded and searched the CPT apartment.
CPTer Rich Meyer described events surrounding one of the previous raids:
On the evening of December 11 there was a loud banging on our door. Six Israeli soldiers in full battle gear, flak jackets and field radios, demanded to search our home. John Lynes held the door half-shut and told the soldiers that they could come in, if they left their guns outside. I told them that it is our organization’s policy not to allow guns into our houses.
The soldiers came in anyway, with their guns, and began a cursory search.
I asked, “What are you looking for?”
“Guns,” replied one.
I said, “We’ve been here ten years, completely committed to nonviolence. We have no guns and you know it. Where is your order for this search?”
“We don’t need an order; we are the army,” he snapped.
I responded, “That’s not right. In a disciplined army there is accountability for actions. You need an order.”
“You disturbed us in that house yesterday,” he retorted.
Oh, rewind to previous day. At 8:45am a Palestinian child came to our door saying there were Israeli soldiers in our neighbor’s home. Kristin Anderson and Diane Janzen went over and walked in with the video camera running. They found Israeli soldiers lying around the living room eating candy bars. The Palestinian family was confined to one room. Clothes had been pulled out of closets.
“Why are you in these people’s house?” asked Kristin. “Why are you keeping them in that room? Why are you pulling their things out of the closet?”
“We don’t have to explain
it to you,” said the soldiers.
Four minutes later the soldiers left. The last one out the door returned the ID of the family’s fifteen-year-old son.
Oh, rewind to sixteen days earlier. We were at a stand-off at the checkpoint where the Israeli soldiers are now trying to force students and teachers to go through a trailer with metal detectors on their way to school. During the pushing and shoving, Israeli soldiers pulled two boys out of the crowd and arrested them. One was our neighbor’s son. He was held in an Israeli military jail for two weeks until his father could pay 5,000 shekels ($1100) for his release.
During the December 29 search, the soldiers zeroed in on a bowl of old sound grenades, empty tear gas canisters, rubber-coated bullets and shells that CPTers collected following street clashes in the past (primarily to use as visual aids during speaking engagements back home). One soldier decided that the dented cartridges constituted weapons.
The police confiscated the spent casings and arrested the five CPTers – John Lynes, Sarah MacDonald, Rich Meyer, Grace Pleiman and Harriet Taylor.
As they were escorted out of the apartment, team members locked the doors behind them under the watchful eye of an Israeli soldier posted on the roof of the house across the street.
Ninety minutes later, while the five CPTers were still being held at Kiryat Arba police station, teammates Art Gish and Kathie Uhler arrived at the apartment. They found the door forced open and the equipment missing.
One hour later the five CPTers were released on their own recognizance and returned home. The missing equipment has never been accounted for.
CPTers working in the Middle East
experienced first hand some of the fiery reactions ignited throughout the Islamic
world when an escalating number of Western newspapers re-printed cartoons of
Prophet Muhammad deemed by Muslims to be insulting and blasphemous. The caricatures
first appeared in a Danish newspaper last September.
Team members in Iraq wrote: “...The publishers claim freedom of speech, but we believe they are only spreading hate and bigotry. To those who believe and act as if terrorism is an essential part of the Islamic faith, we say ‘No! Stop!’ We cannot stand by and remain silent when our gracious Muslim brothers and sisters are being defamed...Those of us working in Iraq see the suffering and pain that acts of terror cause. Terrorism is wrong. It is hypocritical to label Muslims as terrorists when our own countries have been the greatest perpetrators of terror and violence around the world...”
Palestinian friends in Hebron urged CPT to keep a low profile for a few days. The team managed to continue regular visitations, school patrols and other daily patrols, even as some international groups had to evacuate.
In trying to help Westerners understand such widespread angry reactions by Muslim communities, CPTer Rich Meyer wrote:
“This is not really about cartoons or freedom of the press or religious fundamentalism.
“Muslims worldwide see a renewed political attack on the Islamic world by the West, led by the U.S.
“Start in the last century with installing the Shah of Iran and propping up other Middle Eastern despots (like Saddam Hussein) willing to let us have their oil. Include U.S. military support for Israel (particularly for Israeli occupation of Palestine) and giving cover for the Israeli nuclear weapons program, now estimated at 200 warheads. Add a war against Afghanistan, a war against Iraq, threats against Iran and Syria, and missile attacks on Pakistani villages.
“In a context of domination and disrespect of Arab states and of Islam by Western powers, these cartoons and what they symbolized were the spark in the tinderbox of frustration. A portion of most populations under domination and exploitation will turn to violence.
“Criticizing the violence of resistance without working to end the violence of occupation/domination and the exploitation it protects will not accomplish much. Biblical peacemaking includes promoting nonviolence along with compassionate listening, demonstrations of respect, and working to end the domination-based relationship patterns.”
On January 28, residents of La Florida
and Los Yeques in the Ciénaga del Opón region of Colombia welcomed
a six-person diplomatic delegation from the Canadian embassy in Bogotá.
The group, which included Ambassador Matthew Levin and his wife, made the hour-long boat trip through the conflict zone from the city of Barrancabermeja to the tiny river village of La Florida.
Community leaders thanked the delegation for coming. “We have never had people as important as you come here,” they said. “Not even the mayor of Barrancabermeja has come out to visit us. Also, you have come out here escorted only by CPT and we commend you for that.”
Everyone gathered in the school where community members shared stories of their displacements, of threats against their lives from armed actors, and of economic hardship caused by dropping prices of corn, plantain and other agricultural products.
Ambassador Levin thanked those present saying, “We want you to feel accompanied by the Canadian Embassy and we want you to know that although you feel alone here, you are not abandoned. Even though we are far away, you are present in our hearts and our work.” Rosalba Levin, the Ambassador’s wife, especially expressed interest in knowing more about the communities and the lives of women. The conversation continued over a lunch of fried fish and plantains prepared by community members.
CPT had been inviting embassy personnel to come and visit its accompaniment project in the Opón region since 2001. Ambassador Levin and his staff are new to Colombia and expressed a desire to visit as many places as possible to get a full understanding of the situation.
Returning to Barrancabermeja, embassy delegates met with representatives of the local government, the Catholic Church, human rights groups, and development organizations.
CPTers Pierre Shantz and Noah Dillard accompanied the Ambassador’s group. Based on their experiences in the Opón and other regions of the country, they raised questions about the Canadian government’s involvement in the paramilitary demobilization process and concerns about Canadian corporations that extract natural resources from Colombia. In particular, Shantz and Dillard relayed concerns from people living in areas of gold and oil concentration who have told CPT about mining practices of Canadian companies that lead to the economic and environmental exploitation of local communities.
Embassy personnel acknowledged these concerns. They said that, although they believe most Canadian businesses practice high standards of corporate social responsibility, they are open to hearing about any questionable situations involving Canadian companies.
The diplomats made a commitment to keep in close contact with CPT and encouraged CPT to continue its work in Colombia.
by Adaía Bernal
Adaía Bernal, a full-time CPTer from Bogotá, described the encounter between the Opón River communities and Canadian diplomats as “touching.” She wrote this poem to express what she felt during the brief but important time they shared.
I saw with great joy how visits like this inspire the community to keep pushing ahead.
I saw how, after so long, these encounters bolster the community’s resolve.
I saw how visibly strong the bonds of love between CPT and the community have become after 4 years.
I saw with my eyes and all my senses the basic need to nourish daily life with unexpected visits.
I grasped once again our need for
such encouragement in order to move onward.
I grasped once again that communal and individual exhaustion can be replaced by budding hope.
I grasped once again how good it is to receive such distinguished and unexpected visitors.
I grasped, finally, that we are weaving bonds of spiritual devotion with our beloved communities.
Once again I felt proud to be part of CPT in Colombia.
Once again I felt affirmed in this calling of service.
I felt like part of a bridge between the community and the larger world.
I felt I was a part of the spirit of fellowship.
How to repay the gratefulness?
How to repay the solidarity and the openness?
How to ward off ideas of withdrawal?
How to ward off the flickers of despair from our thoughts?
By serving, accompanying, helping, inviting?
Colombia team members December 2005 - February 2006 were: Scott Albrecht (Kitchener, ON), Adaía Bernal (Colombia), Robin Buyers (Toronto, ON), Su- zanna Collerd (River Forest, IL), Noah Dillard (Freedom, ME), Jenny Dillon (Washington, DC), Duane Ediger (Chicago, IL), Jim Fitz (Tiskilwa, IL), Joel Klassen (Toronto, ON), Gerald Paoli (Chicago, IL), Sandra Rincón (Colombia), Pierre Shantz (Colombia), Stewart Vriesinga (Lucknow, ON).
CPT delegation members conducting
an Ash Wednesday witness at the border wall separating the U.S. from Mexico
had a surprise encounter with the National Guard.
As participants painted a cross on the wall to remember a migrant from Veracruz who died the week before while making the difficult journey across the border, the contingent of 150 Guard troops from Massachusetts grew increasingly edgy. They approached several times and asked the group to leave.
The National Guard is in the region working on an extensive Border Infrastructure Improvement Project. “Translated, that means tearing up the dessert to build roads that facilitate Border Patrol access to remote areas,” said CPTer Scott Kerr. “Not only is this construction project causing serious environmental damage, we’re very concerned that it will lead to an increased presence of the U.S. Army and Arizona National Guard along the border. More militarization is not the answer.”
The delegation engaged members of the Guard in conversation about each group’s purpose for being there, then continued their witness under a banner that read “The Wall Kills.” Over 280 migrants died in the Arizona dessert last year, in part because the border wall forces them to cross through more treacherous terrain in the scorching dessert heat.
Borderlands delegation members December-February were: Brownsville exploratory delegation, February 12-17 – Mark Frey (Chicago, IL) Elizabeth Garcia (Brownsville, TX), Wendy Lehman, (Chicago, IL) and Murray Lumley (Toronto, ON); Arizona, February 24 - March 3 – Don Bryant (Royalton, OH), Brian Fry (Cleveland, OH), Paul Godshall (Durham, NC), Scott Kerr (Tucson, AZ), and Kirsten Van Drunen (Kitchener, ON)
U.S. authorities continue to press
felony federal charges against two workers from the Tucson-based No More Deaths
movement for providing humanitarian aid to migrants in medical distress.
No More Deaths volunteers, Shanti Sellz and Daniel Strauss, both 23, were arrested by the U.S. Border Patrol for medically evacuating three people in critical condition from the 105° Arizona desert in July 2005. Sellz and Strauss followed the No More Deaths protocol – consulting medical professionals who advised them to evacuate the critically ill men to a medical facility, then consulting a No More Deaths attorney who approved the evacuation.
Last summer CPT-Arizona worked closely with No More Deaths personnel and operated by the same protocol. “The government is sending the message that it is illegal to help our sisters and brothers in distress, that it is illegal to do the Christian thing,” said Mark Frey, Arizona Project Support Coordinator. “It was chance that No More Deaths volunteers were arrested instead of CPTers. It could just as easily be CPTers sitting in the court room.”
Under the banner, “Humanitarian Aid Is Never A Crime,” No More Deaths is calling on faith communities to urge prosecutors to drop the charges. Last month a judge rejected defense arguments that the case be dismissed, and a trial date has been set for April.
Amnesty International stated, “...On the basis of the facts as presented, Amnesty International is supporting calls for the charges to be dropped in this case and considers that, if convicted and imprisoned, Daniel Strauss and Shanti Sellz would be prisoners of conscience.” Former Arizona Supreme Court Chief Justice Stanley G. Feldman has joined the No More Deaths legal defense team.
Follow developments in this case at www.nomoredeaths.org.
– A group of Iraqis calling themselves “Independent Activates: a
Society to Defend Human Rights” held it’s third vigil on behalf
of 4 missing CPTers Friday, February 17 in Baghdad’s Firdos Square. When
they first learned about the November 26, 2005 kidnapping, thirty Independent
Activates from Baghdad took to the streets with banners and leaflets. The group
has about 170 members in chapters all over Iraq. “The Activates reassured
us that we have many friends in Iraq,” said CPTer Michele Naar-Obed. “With
angelic faces and words to nourish the soul, they appeared in our lives like
messengers from God.”
Fasters Arrested – On February 27, seven participants in the Voices for Creative Nonviolence “Winter of Our Discontent” campaign were arrested at the White House. They were charged with protesting in a no protest zone and released after several hours. Since beginning a 34-day liquids-only fast on February 15, Voices activists have been holding vigils at the White House, the Pentagon and the Capitol Building calling for an end to the war. In Chicago, eight Voices friends started an electricity fast, swearing off lights, refrigerators, computers, televisions, and cell phones until March 20. For more information go to: www.vcnv.org.
Signs of the Times is produced four times a year. Batches of 10 or more are available to institutions, congregations, and local groups for distribution. Any part of Signs of the Times may be used without permission. Please send CPT a copy of the reprint. Your contributions finance CPT ministries including the distribution of 18,000 copies of Signs of the Times.
The work of CPT is guided by a 14-member STEERING COMMITTEE: Lois Baker, Tony Brown, Ruth Buhler, Walter Franz, Elizabeth García, Cliff Kindy, Susan Mark Landis, Lee McKenna duCharme, Phil Miller, Orlando Redeko- pp, Hedy Sawadsky, Colin South, John Stoner, Brian Young.
CHRISTIAN PEACEMAKER CORPS: Scott Albrecht, Adaía Ber- nal, Matt Chandler, Kryss Chupp, Suzanna Collerd, Anita David, Noah Dillard, Claire Evans, Tom Fox, Mark Frey, Peggy Gish, Julián Gutiérrez, Tracy Hughes, Diane Janzen, Rebecca Johnson, Kathleen Kern, Scott Kerr, Cliff Kindy, Joel Klassen, Amy Knickrehm, Jerry Levin, John Lynes, Rich Meyer, Maxine Nash, Jessica Phillips, Doug Pritchard, Sara Reschly, Sandra Rincón, Dianne Roe, Greg Rollins, Carol Rose, Heidi Schramm, Pierre Shantz, Kathie Uhler, Stewart Vriesinga, Diana Zimmerman.
RESERVE CORPS: 153 women and men from the U.S., Canada, Bahrain, Israel/Palestine, Philippines, England, Scotland, and New Zealand.