Sophia's Peace Work

Friday, July 30, 2004

Some more pictures

The CPT Delegation in Bethlehem (on top of the Olive Wood Factory)
Front row (left to right) : Lorin (not a delegation member), Barbara, Me 
Back row: Bret, Kevin, Shelly and John

Jack Giacaman, a Palestinian Christian and the owner of the Olive Wood Factory, was diagnosed with cancer and needed treatment at the hospital in Jerusalem.  As a resident of Bethlehem he needed a special pass to go there (something like a 15 to 20 minute drive).  After lots of waiting and delays, he finally got the pass ... but it was for the wrong day!

Sorry, a dark shot of me ... inside the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem ... supposedly I'm sitting next to the site where Jesus was born.  

This is actually a photo from Baghdad taken right after the Tigris River Trip.  I'm inside the Mudhif at the home of Sheikh Ayad Jamal Al-Din.  The picture is by Dana Smillie, a very nice photojournalist based out of Cairo.

A Day in West Jerusalem

Today we went to Yad Vashem, the Holocaust museum in W. Jerusalem ... what always strikes me are the pictures and the stories of the people who quietly walked up to a trench nearly filled with dead bodies and stood there, often silently, waiting to be shot and added to the pile.  It really shakes me to the core.  First that they could do it so peacefully (?!?) and second that there was someone who could not only watch that happen but pull the trigger as well.

I noticed they had some old signs up ... "Kill the Jews" and I couldn't help be reminded of the sign I had read recently spray-painted on a wall in the Old City of Hebron ... it was written in Russian (many settlers come from Russia) but Jim a CPT member translated it for me.  "Kill the Arabs" it said. 

The other minor note about the museum was that I never saw a single description, display or even an exit sign written in Arabic.  Technically atleast Israel is a bi-lingual state ... Hebrew and Arabic.  You would think that Israelis might want Arab people of the surrounding region to understand who they are and what they have been through ... you would think they'd include some Arabic.  I'm certain, given the current situation, that most of their visitors are not Arabic speakers but Israeli Palestinians can go to the museum as can E. Jerusalem Palestinians ... and I would assume, because of the treaties with Jordan and Egypt, that atleast some Arabs come from those countries (but maybe I'm wrong).

Also today, we went to a Women in Black vigil at a square in W. Jerusalem not far from the Old City.  I know Women in Black from protests against the Iraq war in my town back in the states.  But these women (and a few men), dressed primarily in black and holding signs with English, Hebrew and Arabic that read "End the Occupation" are the roots of the Women in Black movement.  They are Israeli women protesting the on-going war and occupation of the Occupied Territories.  Their reception was either outright hositility (Several drivers passed by and told them they were "traitors") or indifference.  I was told by one woman that even when Palestinians drive by they avert their faces ... they are so used to pro-Israeli/anti-Palestinian rallies that they assume that that is what Women in Black is doing as well.


“Why are you here?” they asked me.
“I just have this thing about occupations.”

Fresh from the Iraq Occupation to Palestinian Occupation, I’ve spent the past four days participating in a CPT delegation.  There are six other members of the delegation: Shelly, an agnostic graduate of the Messiah College, John the funny one who asks the stupid questions (which we are all secretly glad he asks), Ed a soft-spoken former Jesuit and now Roman Catholic and the oldest of our delegation, Kevin a 18 year old student with an easy going nature, Bret a college professor of public policy from D.C., and Barbara, a school teacher.  Our delegation leader, a methodical, thoughtful but nearly blind man named Jim, has kept us running all over Jerusalem and the surrounding area meeting one group after another, touring refugee camps, settlements, visiting checkpoints and constructions sites for the “Security” Wall that Israel is building.

Here is a list of some the groups we’ve visited:

Israeli Committee Against Home Demolition (
Applied Research Institute Jerusalem (
Palestinian Conflict Resolution Center (
Badil - Resource Center for Palestinian Residency & Refugee Rights ( )
Bereaved Families for Peace – Palestinian and Israelis who have lost family because of the Occupation ( )
Rabbis for Human Rights (
B’Tselem – Israeli Human Rights group (
Sabeel – Palestinian Liberation Theology group (

We also stayed one night at the Deheisha Refugee Camp in Bethlehem with the family of Atallah Salem who left their land due to the violence in 1948 during Israel’s War of Independence … what the Palestinians call Al Naqba (The Catastrophe).  We also spent a morning talking to Rifka and David, a settler couple from the Efrat Settlement, near Bethlehem.

Am I being presented with a balanced view of the situation here?  Probably not.  I wish we could here more of a pro-Israel viewpoint.  Aside from Rifka and David, the Palestinians and Israelis have uniformly condemned Israeli policy and shown us how it merely promotes continued violence. 

I am glad we had a chance to listen and speak to Rifka (a former Quaker from New Hampshire who converted to Judaism and moved to Israel) and David (born and raised in Jerusalem), but even they would say they are not typical settlers.  And having listened to them I found their arguments, which were generally (but not completely) supportive of Israeli policy, to be flimsy at best.   At worst their viewpoint is unsettlingly in its implications.  They understand that there are inequities in Israeli policy but (and this is a big BUT, which seems to outweigh the statement just made) they make all sorts of excuses for these inequities.  Rifka spoke at great length about the historic roots that Israelis have in the area, which no one in the room denied.  Both she and David made many references to their “Arab” friends (it seems to be a policy, we are told, among many settlers to use the word “Arab” rather than “Palestinian”) and the symbiotic relationships between Israelis and Arabs (i.e. Palestinians used to work for the Israelis before the first Intifada).  But in the very next breath they would speak and share anecdotes about the different attitudes towards violence that Arabs have (implying but unwilling to say explicitly that the Palestinians are more violent than Israelis and don’t value their children as much as Israelis do).  When we pressed Rifka on this issue to see if this was what they really meant, squirming in her seat (as I’m sure anyone would trying to skate on such thin ice), she said, “Well no, if I said that I’d sound like a racist.”

The night before, in Deheisha Refugee camp, Fatima, Atallah’s 71 year old grandmother, had told us the story of how she had fled her village in 1948 and has been a refugee ever since.  I told her that we were going to the Efrat Settlement the next day (which the Palestinians in the camp call “The Snake” because it is strung out along the crests of the Judean hills opposite the camp).  Was there anything, I asked her, that she would like me to know before I went to talk to the settlers?

“Such people are clever and play with words,” she said, “They will say that they are the victims of Palestinian violence or that God has given them this land.  They thought that after the first generation of Palestinians forced from their lands had died, that their children would forget about their claim to the land.  But we teach the children and we will never forget our original land.”

I’m very glad we had a chance to meet with Fatima, Atallah, Rifka and David … to see Fatima’s facial tattoos, to make a game of pulling Noor’s pony tail (Atallah’s niece), to be present as Rifka and David’s 16 year old son passed through the room with two automatic weapons slung across his shoulder and to see their toddler Noam smiling in her lap, very friendly with the strangers around him.  They were all very nice people living out their lives in an extremely bizarre and violent situation.

Monday, July 26, 2004

Wall Tour

For the first day of our delegation, we went on a "Wall Tour" hosted by ICAHD, Israeli Committee Against Housing Demolition.  As we went from one depressing site to another I kept thinking, "Hmmmm, maybe it wasn't such a good idea to go straight to Israel/Palestine right after Iraq."

Anyway, I'll just share some of the pictures from the day ... 

Israeli protest against removal of Gaza Settlements


Ras Al Amoud, basketball court on the left (the only recreational center for Palestinian kids in this area) was partially destroyed by the new Israeli Settlement on the right.  There was about a 15 to 20 foot drop on the other side of this rather flimsy fence.


The Wall as it passes through Abu Dis, in East Jerusalem ... there is certainly no freeze in settlement building ... we saw plenty of evidence that building continues.  There is a new settlement planned for this hill and the first building is already in place (house on the right side of the picture).


Getting ready to put up the Wall ...  each segment is 9 meters high (which is higher than anything I ever saw in Iraq).


Allah and Palestine

Sunday, July 25, 2004

Communication Skills

I went to a morning service today at this beautiful little place called the Lutheran Church of the Redeemer in Jerusalem and for the first time since I was a kid I took communion.  That was a surprisingly powerful experience ... more so than I initially realized.  Then I proceeded to get into an arguement ... ahm, I mean discussion ... with this Quaker woman after the service. 

What I've been struck by here is the complete lack of communication of any sort that is allowed between Palestinians and Israelis ... admittedly in the past that communication was very destructive but yesturday I was speaking to a municipal workers at a small Palestinian town ... He is not allowed to have any formal communication with the council the runs the Settler community right next to the town (which is appropriating land from farmers who live in the town). 

I made the comment to the Quaker woman that it is no wonder that there is a conflict when the two parties are not even allowed to speak with one another.  I thought I was making a simple observation and I'm not really sure what this woman thought I was saying but she told me that I was taking an idealogical stance and that I should really study the situation further before I made statements like that.  Whao doggy, you can easily get into trouble around here if you don't watch your P's and Q's!

Anyway, what I've seen of Jerusalem so far (just an itsy bitsy portion of the western segment of the old city), I really like ... it's an amazing town of maze-like, narrow, stone streets (streets is perhaps the wrong word ... hallways has more of the feel of it), packed with shops, people, colors and smells.  Sensory overload!!!

Anyway, I'm off to the airport to pick up the CPT delegation.


Thursday, July 22, 2004

At the Ramano Checkpoint, Hebron Old City

I squatted with Jim against a wall, two young Palestinian men to the right of us and four to the left.  The Israeli soldiers from the Romano Checkpoint at the entrance to the maze-like Old City of Hebron had spaced the young men out, for the most part ignoring Jim and I.  When they told the men to squat, we hunkered down as well.  When a soldier stopped a Palestinian woman and her young children traveling to Al Quds (Jerusalem) to search her big suitcase, Jim encouraged me to approach her and help dust off the suitcase, which had lain in the dirt, once the soldier was through with her.
“As a man, I can’t really approach and help her,” he said.  I went up to the woman and after banging out the dust from her suitcase she shook my hand and went on her way.  I went back to Jim and the Palestinian men and continued the wait.  What we were waiting for was not clear as we spoke neither Hebrew or Arabic.  The soldiers had the men’s IDs, which no Palestinian man can ever be without.
“They are really being more aggressive today,” Jim told me. “Maybe something has happened.” And when a soldier approached, Jim asked him this question.
The soldier indicated that something had happened but he wouldn’t give any details.  We waited until all the men had been released from the checkpoint and then went up to a Pharmacy to get some medication that Jim needed.  The man in the Pharmacy wasn’t sure if anything out of the ordinary had happened that day.  He thought that maybe someone had attacked some soldiers somewhere.  Upon our return, we found more men lined up in the hot afternoon sun.  We stopped with them and passed a bottle of water around.
Across from us, the Ramano checkpoint consisted of a pillbox and flimsy gate that blocked a side street that led to the Settlers Yeshiva (a school dedicated to the intensive study of the Torah) and a small Israeli military post. Jim pointed out a man sitting about 10 yards beyond the checkpoint wearing shorts, a helmet, flackjacket and toting a machine gun.  “Settler security,” he told me.  There was a tall, thin young man standing next to him with blond hair and the side curls of an orthodox Yeshiva student.  Above the checkpoint, looking down from a roof-top military lookout drapped in drap-green netting, a female Israeli soldier called down now and then.  Occasionally we heard her say “CPT” and knew that she was saying something about us.  Later she came down to the checkpoint, a diminutive woman literally swimming in her olive uniform and looking weighted down by her gun and equipment.  She spoke jokingly to a group of three Palestinian boys that wandered through the checkpoint … too young to draw the attention of the soldier checking ID’s.
At one point, tired or curious of our silent and watchful attention, the soldier approached us to check our ID’s.  Jim again asked why they were stopping so many Palestinians.  “Looking for terrorists,” the soldier said. 
“Did a Israeli soldier get hurt today?” I asked and was told flatly, “No.”  At this point, most of the men had been released, their ID cards returned, but one man was still being held.  He’d been there for at least 30 minutes.
“Let’s call TIPH,” Jim said, “They shouldn’t hold people longer than 30 minutes.” TIPH or the Temporary International Presence in Hebron … A six-nation effort established by provisions of the Hebron Protocols in the Oslo Peace Agreement, has official standing with the Israeli government and monitors the activities of Israeli Military, Settlers and Palestinians in Hebron.  Jim made the call and at this point, Lorin another CPT Team member from California showed up at the checkpoint.  Since Jim wasn’t feeling well, he returned to the house and Lorin and I stayed to monitor the checkpoint.  Some municipal workers showed up to work on a sewer line construction project that was underway to the right of the checkpoint.  After the workers started hammering, the soldiers came over, told them to stop work and took their ID’s.  Ten minutes past and they eventually allowed the Palestinian man who had now waited about 40 minutes to finally leave.  Aside from holding the ID’s of the now idle workers, the soldiers no longer appeared interested in stopping anyone who passed through the checkpoint.
Lorin and I continued to wait until the young Yeshiva student sauntered down to stand at the checkpoint.  He kept looking at Lorin and I and it seemed like he wanted to talk.  Mindful of the warnings I had received that the Settlers did not like CPT and were known to spit at us and throw rocks at our window, I approached him wearily.
“Hello,” I said, “Shalom.”
“What are you doing here?” he asked, looking honestly baffled by my presence there.
“I’m just here to watch, listen and learn,” I said.
“Why do you want to help the Palestinians,” he said, “They are all terrorists.”
“I doubt that can be true.”
“They all have the potential to be terrorists,” he said, “Do you know what they teach them in school?”
“I don’t know what they are taught in school,” I said, “But what are you taught in school?”
At this point his understanding of English seemed to escape him and I couldn’t pursue the discussion in Hebrew, so we both withdrew to our respective zones.  Eventually TIPH showed up.  We briefed them on what happened, told them that the municipal workers were still waiting for their ID’s and permission to resume work and left them to negotiate with the soldiers.
Upon our return, the other team members expressed some amazement that I had actually had a civil conversation with a Settler.  I was told that they had tried many times to set up meetings with the Settlers of Hebron, considered by many to be the most fundamentalist, most anti-Palestinian in the Occupied Territories, but had been unsuccessful.
It’s interesting but the next day I had the chance to talk to a Palestinian headmaster for schools in Yatta, a Palestinian town in the southern Hebron district.  I told him about my interaction with the Yeshiva student and he shook his head and said, “It is only bad people, both Israeli and Palestinian, that wish to spread such lies about one another.  But you know, the children, both Israeli and Palestinian are all the same … all innocent.”

Wednesday, July 21, 2004

Hebron (with a little help from the CPT Field Manual)

I wanted to give everyone some idea of where I’m now residing.  I live in an old three-story house on an abandoned street in the old city of Hebron.  CPT’s been here for nine years and it’s got a homey, activist-oriented feel about it.  The walls are filled with inspiring quotes from Martin Luther King, Jr. and instructions on how to conserve water (none goes down the drain that hasn’t already been used twice).  In the extensive library I found books on peace and nonviolence, the history of Israel/Palestine and Christianity, Judism and Islam (the latter includes a book I’m reading by Ira Zepp, a professor of religious studies at the college where my father worked).  I sleep up on the 3rd floor, the women’s floor, with four other women on the team, Christy, Dianne, Donna and Diane.  The two men on the team, Jim and Lorin, sleep on the 2nd floor where the office is.
From our roof we can look down into a small Israeli army post where we can watch the soldiers stroll about.  At the end of our short street, which is blocked by a tall metal fence, barbed wire and garbage, is Shuhada Street, which runs through the center of the city of Hebron.  It was built with a grant from USAID as a meeting place for the city’s Arab and Israeli populations.  However, since its completion, this projected shopping area has been closed to Palestinians by the Israelis, who do not allow them to walk on, drive on or even cross the street.
This city has long been the center of a conflict between both Arabs and Jews as it is the burial place of Abraham and other key figures that are central to both Muslims and Jews.  It is one of the oldest continuously occupied cities in the world.  The surrounding lands of rolling Judean hills located about 20 miles south of Jerusalem in the West Bank are also the setting of a longstanding conflict between Arab farmers and landowners and the settlers.  All claim an exclusive right to the land.  In 1929 there was a massacre in the Jewish quarter in which 67 men, women, and children were hacked to death by an Arab mob.  Almost 400 residents of the Jewish quarter, however, were saved by their Arab neighbors.
Historically it appears that the two communities lived in peace with one another.  In the 1500’s many Jews and Muslims fleeing from Europe to escape the Inquisitions came to Hebron.  Ironically, at the time of the massacre, the Jewish community in Hebron was largely anti-zionist, believing that the kingdom of Israel would be re-established when the Messiah came.  The agnostic European Zionists coming into the country, they believed, were trying to force the Messiah’s hand.
In April of 1968, Rabbi Moshe Levinger and some armed friends, posing as Swiss tourists, took over the only hotel in Hebron and stated that they did not intend to leave.  To appease them, the army gave them an abandoned military camp on the outskirts of Hebron.  This site became the settlement of Kiryat Arba.
In 1979, Miriam Levinger, his wife, moved into Beit Hadassah, built as a medical clinic by the Jewish community in 1893, along with several other women and children.  The Israeli military immediately moved in to protect them.  More Israelis began to occupy the buildings near the central marketplace.  In response to the growing settlements, initially regarded as illegal, but now protected by the authorities, a group of Fatah guerillas attacked on May 2, 1980, killing six yeshiva students in front of Beit Hadassah.
The military authorities responded by permitting two more settlements to be established in the city center and by installing checkpoints in the center of the city, bringing Hebron’s commercial district under military control.
Relations continued to deteriorate, culminating in the February 1994 massacre in the Ibrahimi Mosque.  Dr. Baruch Goldstein began firing upon Muslim men and boys on the last Friday in Ramadan as they prayed.  Twenty-nine died in the mosque and Israeli Defense Force (IDF) shot as many more in the demonstrations that followed.
Palestinians in Hebron were then put under curfew for two months, though settlers continued to walk freely.  The Christian Peacemaker Team arrived in the city a year later.  A large monument to Baruch Goldstein, “the martyr,” lies near the entrance of Kiryat Arba, the first Israeli settlement in Hebron (Goldstein was beaten to death with a fire extinguisher by two men in the mosque who were later shot by the IDF).  Some right-wing Israelis come there to pray.
CPT has had a continuous presence in Hebron since June of 1995, a period that has seen the signing of Oslo II, the assassination of Yitzhak Rabin, the first Palestinian elections run by Palestinians, several bus bombings, the elections of Netanyahu and Sharon, and the Palestinian uprisings.
It’s into this place that I’ve made my way. 

Monday, July 19, 2004

Arrived in Hebron
I just arrived after over 8 hours of travel time (in what should have taken 3 hours ... the border crossing was somethin' else!).  I'm now in the heart of the old city of Hebron with the Christian Peacemaker Team (hereafter known as CPT ... don't say I didn't tell you!).
They have a lovely place in the old city right next to where the Settlers zone is ... apparently some of the local boys from the settlement have been throwing stones at the windows of the CPT house recently.  The internet connection here is slow and they have to use their single phone line to dial up ... sooooo, I'm not sure how easy it will be update my weblog  but I'll do my best!

Sunday, July 18, 2004

Trouble in Jordon
Lorna is a friend who traveled into Iraq with me in February ... she's also the editor of Chronogram Magazine, a monthly Mid-Hudson Valley Magazine.  I hooked up with her in Amman, Jordan.  She's planning on travelling back into Iraq and I into Israel/Palestine.  I went with her to the new Iraqi Embassy in Amman to help her get her visa (a re-instated requirement as of July 1st). 
It's official.
Only business with ties to reconstruction are being let in without the new visa requirement of getting permission from the Ministry of Interior (the guy kept interchanging Ministry of Information with Ministry of Interior).  We asked about getting a visa just to see friends.  Same deal.  The friend or family member in Iraq needs to go to the Ministry and get them to fax a letter to the embassy with the permission.  This truely sucks for Lorna, who was hoping to travel in tonight, but I'm glad to be forewarned about it in terms of coming back in the future.

Friday, July 16, 2004

It’s Just a Boat Trip
The morning promised to be a hot one and I was already having problems.  People were having couldn’t find the drop off location.  It’d spent two months trying to get this boat trip on the Tigris River ready and no one could find where it started.  So I went up on the bridge and stood around like some hopelessly lost Westerner, a stranger in a strange land.  Everyone gaped at me and honked their horns but it was better then any signed that read “Tigris River Project, Turn here!” 
Finally everyone (or nearly everyone) had arrived.  I had three staff from the Ministry of Environment’s Baghdad Office ready to take their first samples of Tigris River water since the war.  I had representatives from three different Iraqi Environmental NGOs (aka. Non-Government Organizations): The Iraqi Green Peace Organization, the Iraqi Human Rights Association and the Green Iraq Organization.  And I had reporters, photographers, and camera operators from major Arabic and Western Press who had come to document the first environmental survey of the river (there had been a previous attempt in March, which had ended badly with the Ministry engineers being shot at, dragged ashore, hooded and cuffed, interrogated, with their work of three days destroyed).
The goals of the trip were to help the Ministry conduct its survey; give the Iraqi Environmental groups some much needed exposure, and allow Iraqis a chance to travel down their own river (hopefully) unmolested.  But there were a whole host of problems with this idea.  First off the river is dotted with American/Coalition obstacles … Adhamiyah Palace military base, the Green Zone and the 14th of July Bridge.  Special permission would be needed to travel past them.  Secondly there was the problem of approaching sensitive installations like Water Treatment facilities to take samples … I faces hassles with security guards at numerous sites on all of the pre-surveys I had done prior to the final trip (usually these ended amicably but once there was a few particularly tense moments when I could hear quite clearly hear bullets being loaded into chambers).  Then there was the resistance to consider, particularly on the lower river, which is filled with farms and has an isolated feel to it … a perfect place for insurgents to hide and strike from.
Luckily I was able to get the permissions I needed from the Ministry, the U.S. Military, and the Iraqi Police.  I even had a police escort … the only problem was that at the start of the trip, the IP escort failed to show up!  We proceeded down the river but immediately where hassled at the first Water Treatment Plant we passed (9-Nissan, one of the largest in the city).  We took a hasty sample trying to ignore the plant guards who were trying to stop us and get us to approach and headed down river.  Fortunately, the Iraqi River Police headquarters are near the first bridge we passed on the river.  We stopped to inquire about our escort and were shocked to learn that they claimed to know nothing about our trip … and would further more need special permission from the GCC (though they never explained what the GCC was) to escort us!  Two months of work and my trip felt like it was over before it had begun!  Fortunately, I was finally able to get through to my IP contact on my mobile and he quickly settled the matter (or so I thought).
Eventually we were able to proceed down the river … we stopped at the Medical City and smelled the stink of sewage that the Medical City claimed was not their waste even though many people I spoke to indicated that it was and a boatman had told us of seeing medical fluid bags floating down the river.  We zipped from sample site to sample site, the press conducting their interviews and then suddenly we stopped at another River Police station near the Sinic Bridge, just upriver of the Green Zone area.
“They need approval of the GCC to go further,” Mazin, my translator, told me.
Gritting my teeth, we waited another 20 minutes until our escort was freed to continue.  Passing through the Green Zone was done at a careful, moderate speed, with occasional U.S. helicopters buzzing us overhead.  We observed the smoking garbage dump that the Green Zone has created just outside their walls along the banks of the river and then we past, unmolested under the eyes of an Abrams Tank on the 14th of July Bridge.  My heart was suddenly back down in its proper location.
Passing past the Jadriyah Bridge we came upon a river ceremony of the Sabea Mandean sect.  Dozens of white-robed men and women came down to river to immerse themselves in the Tigris to re-enact the baptism of Jesus.  It was an incredible photo opportunity and the reporters were clamoring off the boats almost before they hit the shore.
As the organizer of the trip I spent much of this stop watching the clock and insisting “Yalla, yalla!” (Hurry up!) to try to encourage the press to finish their interviews and get back in the boats.  I was very conscious that the sun was baking us and we still had a lot of river to cover.  Finally we shipped off and headed for Pn.  Rainwater discharge station Pn consists of two huge pipes that spews raw sewage from the Khark side of the city into the Tigris River.   Baghdad contributes as much as 75 percent of all sewage discharged to rivers in Iraq. There are three Sewage Treatment Plants in Baghdad: Rustimiyah North and South and the Khark Waste Water Plant.  Only the Khark Plant is functioning but just at about 1/3 of its capacity of 205,000 cu. meters per day.  It’s important to remember that actual sewage flow to the plant appears to be beyond its design capacity.  Sometime in the 1990’s the rainwater and sewage networks of the city were connected, so that discharge stations like Pn bring a lot of the excess sewage directly to the river untreated.  These discharge stations and all the pipes bringing waste water to the river from streets, industries and private homes is a big problem on the Tigris.
After Pn, we visited the Doura Power Plant, its big rectangular outfall bringing waste coolant water to the river.  Occasionally it is also a source of oil pollution to the river which complicates the treatment just down river of drinking water at the Doura Water Treatment plant where we took one of our samples.
Passing further down the river, we passed The Qadisiya, one of many wrecked and derelict boats on the river.  The Qadisiya was a large yacht, now mostly stripped of everything useful and grounded near the University of Baghdad Campus in Jadriyah. A river man told us that it had been a gift in 1998 from the Emir of Kuwait to Saddam Hussain.
On our way to a more industrial area of Baghdad, our boats first past along the big homes and palaces of the former regime, under the Double Decker Bridge and on to what would prove to be our last sample site, a rainwater/sewage discharge station near Jser Kabir and a big Soap plant.  As we approached the site, a call came in on my mobile.
It was Major Basim, my Iraqi Police contact.
“We’re getting a lot of calls about you,” he said, “We think it is too dangerous for you to proceed.  You need to stop and turn back.”  The south side of the river here is generally known as Doura.  It is filled with farms and isolated houses.  It is also considered a dangerous area that the Resistance uses to launch mortar attacks on the Green Zone.
I tried to make a case with the Major that I had done this lower section of the river before with no problem.  But even I had to admit that three boats with flashy canopies and filled with Iraqis and Westerners … not to mention our police escort, was drawing a lot more attention than was probably safe.  In many places were we stopped to take our samples, it seemed a small crowd would form.  The NY Times reporter indicated that we even got applause but I was too busy directing the boat drivers and by this time too upset at the thought of cutting the trip short to really notice what was going on beyond the boats themselves.  I’m told at this point we had three police boat escorts … given that it was so hard to get them to join us at the beginning I had to laugh about this later. 
“I really want to get to this last sample site, Major Basim,” I told him over the sound of the engines, “It’s so close.  If we can at least do that, we’ll turn around.”
“Ok, it’s your call,” he said and I hung up, feeling a mixture of sadness but relief as well.  We wouldn’t get down to the confluence of the Diyala River to the Tigris, which had been my target, but we would get our last sample and we’d done the majority of the river.  The press was happy with the story they had and so after the last site, I waved a green flag and directed the boats to take us back to our drop off point.
We were arriving two hours in advance of our final Press Conference, which I’d scheduled to take place at 2 pm at the large home of Sayid Ayad Jamal Al-Din (Sayid is a title of honor given to decendents of the Prophets family).  A controversial cleric in his own right (He’s a shia cleric that calls for a separation of religion and state), the Sayid had graciously opened up his river-side home for me to use. I had invited officials from the Ministry of Environment as well as press that could not make the boat trip to join us there (unfortunately the former did not come for reasons that are still not clear to me).
Exhausted and hot, we walked into the cool, chandeliered living room of the house for a final wrap up.  I can’t recall my exact words, but I presented one of the flags we had made for the trip to the Ministry staff.  Baraa, an engineer from the Ministry, told us that the samples would go to the Ministry lab and they would pass on the results to me (I’m still waiting!) and each of the Iraqi Environmental NGO’s said a few words about their work.  More press showed up and we conducted a few additional interviews by the river.  It seemed odd to be treated like I’m some expert on the Tigris River.  A river that is essentially older the civilization can have no real experts.  But it can have lovers and I think that is what I’ve become.
Finally, after the ministry staff had left (in taxis since the Ministry doesn’t have cars to pick them up), the NGO’s were gone and the press had slowly filtered out, I cleaned up the mess we’d made and headed off to find my bed!  The boat trip was over.

So I thought I was headed to the Moon ...

but it was only a typical take-off from the Baghdad International Airport, followed by a cork-screw maneuver designed to foil the attack of anti-aircraft missiles from lurking Resistance. Fortunately, I survived both the take-off and the threat of missile attack and made it to Jordan (though I still got a little motion sickness ... it was a rocky landing in Amman).

I'll spend a few days here relaxing, catching up on some writing and connecting with a friend. Tonight, Nathan (my friend who traveled into and out of Iraq with me) and I went to the Mecca Mall to go see Spiderman 2 (not my first choice but we missed the showing of Harry Potter). Haven't seen a movie in five months ... the movie theatre's in Iraq are a bit sketchy ... the kind of place that Iraqi men go to with their "girl friends" to watch lite porn movies (i.e. everything is shown from the neck up ... the rest is up to the imagination).

Quite a Mall, that Mecca Mall ... even had a Mrs. Field's Cookies and of course good ol' Burger King. With all the kids hanging out there it looked like a typical mall in the states.

Anyway, after a few days here ... I'll head for Israel/Palestine and a two month stint with the Christian Peacemaker Team.

Out of the frying pan and into the fire!

Here is a nice quote I came upon today ...

Avoiding danger is no safer in the long run than outright exposure ... life is either a daring adventure or nothing.

- Helen Keller

Wednesday, July 14, 2004

Going Crazy

I spent some time under the stars (the few that could be seen) trying to write up my notes from the Trip and the past few days. The power was out at the house, so I just sat outside with my laptop on a swing and battled with my thoughts and the mosquitoes (they have some interesting other bugs in Iraq too ... all of them seem to bite). Anyway, my mind is in turmoil with my preparations for departure tomorrow and today I've got last minute errands and good-byes to do, including the now traditional Iraqi farewell dinner at a pizza joint down the street. So by big updates will have to wait until I've got some time on my hands in Jordan. I leave in the morning with my friend Nathan and hope to hook up with my old friend Lorna, who I originally travelled into Iraq with.


Another big bomb today ... in the Green Zone ... looked like it was in the area where I have to go today ... the big bombs seem to do off in the morning or at night ... so I think I'll be safe for the day ... Inshallah!

Monday, July 12, 2004

So I made it ... check out the NY Times article about the trip.

First let me say Alif Shukran! A Thousand Thanks for all help we received on the Tigris River Project - to all the people here in Iraq that were involved and to my community at home that supported me in doing this work. We had our problems (for awhile there I thought the trip was over before it had even begun ... our police escort didn't show up for the trip. We stopped at the River Police Headquarters ... which was, fortunately, close to the beginning of the trip. I spent almost an hour trying to convince them, "yes, it's OK, this has been cleared. You are supposed to provide an escort for us. You HAVE TO PROVIDE AN ESCORT FOR US!"). But eventually, we were able to do about 3/4's of the river, the Ministry got the samples they wanted, the NGO's got some much needed exposure and Iraqis got to go down their river again.

I've been hearing all day from people who saw coverage of the trip on TV and I've here I have included the NY TImes Article link above ... it's interesting the kind of editorial twists that the writer took. I laughed when he called my good buddy Khalo (Major Basim of the Iraqi Police Headquarters) a "shadowy security figure" Mjr. Basim.

I'm not sure if it was accurate to say that the helicopters "shadowed" us ... but I guess that reads well in the press. We certainly did get buzzed by them a few times as we went through the Green Zone area.

And finally, I have no memory of making any comment about searching for candy!!!

Anyway, I'll be leaving on Thursday ... I wish I could say my goodbye's to everyone in person but I am hoping to come back at some point for a few weeks to work with one of the Iraqi Enviro NGO's ... we want to do a project taking kids out on the river to do environmental education ... so I may go knocking on a few doors in Iraq again.

By the way, on this latter project doing Environmental Education on the Tigris River ... I'm gonna be doing some fund raising. It won't take too much to get a project like this started ... just a little seed money could start a very big ball rolling in Iraq and I'm positive a project like this have never been done before in Iraq and there is a HUGE need for it!

If you'd like to contribute to the Tigris River Environmental Education Project, contact me at my email address: ... more details will follow!

Friday, July 09, 2004

A Full House for the Boat Trip

I've sent my list people coming for the trip on Sunday into the Iraqi Police and US Military. I couldn't take very many ... gotta have room for the Iraqi scientists and NGO-types. At the last second CNN was begging me to come to, but I was cruel to them and told them that unless they could find room in the police boat they were out of luck (hah, never thought I'd be in a position of saying 'No' to a major network!)

Lastly, because the press came out in droves for this project (yippee) we've decided to end it with a press conference ... the press that can't come on the boat can meet us there at the end. I found this big house on the river with a Mudhif (a traditional Arab house) in the back yard. That will be our drop off point and the location of the press conference, and then our boats (now empty) will return up-river.

The press are really excited about this project ... which I'm very happy about ... but, thank the stars above, I'm glad this project will be over soon!!!

So again, if you don't hear from me until Monday ... don't worry ... I'm probably just catching up on some much needed sleep!

Wish me luck everyone!


Thursday, July 08, 2004

The flag for our Boat Trip on Sunday

The drawing I sent to the U.S. Military and Iraqi Police, along with detailed information about the trip and who was coming.

Since I used to work in the Occupational Health field, I couldn't resist taking photos of these paintings on the wall of the Doura Water Treatment plant.

Here is my poem about the house I am currently living in ... in a moment of heat-induced weakness (the dorms at the University have no AC) I accepted an offer to live at the house of a wealthy Shiek who lives right on the river Tigris. It's a great place, but a strange place as well and I don't like the bunker mentality that seems to envelop these heavily-guarded houses. But I'm only here for a few weeks and it's helped me to strengthen (slightly) my arabic. [Added note: a mudhif is a house made of marsh grasses and typical of Marsh Arab construction. juwo and barra are Iraqi arabic words for inside and outside.]

In the house of the closed doors

There are steps down to the river, loose stones, a bar of soap
The oily, brown water slides by placidly
But there are whirlpools that arise and play from the turbulence beneath.

There is a mudhif in the garden, an unused swing and fountains with no wishes ... not even a penny's worth
The fluffy chickens strut idly by
But there is talk of politics on smooth, white stone.

There are men, many men, in knots and in guard towers, vigilant and smiling
The garden is quiet with a fire hose pumping river water an inch deep
But there are dark cars lined up at the ready.

There is the sound of the generator, helicopters overhead and gunfire in the distance
The men go about their business as they've always done
But we are not apart from the events in this city.

There is a house with closed doors, a lock with only two keys, two key masters
The mirrored domes echo my flute nicely
But we're all locked out by language and understanding.

Stay inside they tell me, in this house, behind this gate.
Here is safety, danger is outside, stupid, foolish Westerner
But they speak behind closed doors and that's what they know.

I agree, yes ... you are right, yes ... there is danger
But there is no life behind closed doors
Life is not just juwo, it is barra ... not only inside but out.

(And if I held safety so dear ... why would I have left my home to come to this place and stay behind closed doors?)

Monday, July 05, 2004

Questions from a Friend

So, got some questions for you (other inquiring minds want to know as well). What was the condition of water treatment effort under the Hussein rule? Has it worsened since the war/because of the war? In what ways? Was the water treatment ever good in Baghdad? The fisherman you qoted said fishing has not been good in years...What is the difference now vs. then?

It would be interesting to hear more on this subject. I know you have provided us with some figures on waste treatment, and river usage, but putting it all together with some historical information would put a frame around the picture, at least for me.

In any case, wear your sunscreen!


Good questions ... let's see. The areas around Baghdad before the 1940's was primarily used for Agriculture and irrigation which has a very LONG history in Iraq was the only major impact on the river. After the 40's, urbanization began ... The original city, located between the A'aima Bridge and the Sinik Bridge (on both sides of the river but more on the Rusafa side), started to expand. Other city centers started in Doura, New Baghdad, etc. The biggest expansion started during the era of the Republic. Sadr City (also known as Thawra and, during Saddam's time, Saddam City) was and still is the poor part of town. During the Qassim government, the old shacks and mud houses were replaced with new government built housing for the poor (Shu'ala City on the Khark side of the river was built around the same time and has similar architecture I'm told). Important changes began when Turkey put in it's dams on the upper river ... there are 13 dams in Turkey that effect both the Tigris and Euphrates. During Saddam's time, there was also some major dam building inside if Iraq. There are eight dams affecting the Tigris in Iraq. Historically the dams were for irragation, but they also were for providing electricity, flood control and storing water. Even with all the changes, the water level remained fairly constant through the 40's, 50's and 60's. But the dam building of the 70's & 80's started to have major effects. I've been told that the dam in Turkey cut the water to Iraq by half ... but I don't have detailed info on that.

The dams also cause the river to fluctuate pretty wildly ... this and the decreased water seem to have been the start of the problems with fishing on the river. Pollution with the population increases and urbanization of Iraq also had a major effect.

Before the Iraq/Iraq war (1980 to 1988) the water system in Iraq was quite good ... I've heard that Iraq had some of the best public infustructure in the Middle East at the time. But things began to deteroriate after the war ended. Once the 1st Gulf War was finished and sanctions were in place ... pollution problems on the river became entrenched as spare parts became difficult to get and repairs kept getting deferred. There was water treatment before the war at all (or atleast two) of the sewage treatment plants, but the plants were not functioning well. After the war, they were looted and have been closed while they are slowly renovated (Khark, as I've said, has opened up about 1/3 of its plant to sewage treatment just recently). And it's not just the treatment plants ... a large portion of the Baghdad drinking water network (and most assuredly the sewage network) needs to be completely replaced.

There is also illegal hook-ups, dumping, bad fishing practices, dumping and burning of trash on the river's edge, industrial run off and outflows, some nasty-ass street run-off ... you name it. Since the war, the dumping problems have certainly gotten worse. There is no enforcement. No one to say, "Hey Buddy, you can't put that shit here!" In situations like this, the Iraqis like to say, "You see, this is freedom."

But since the war, the sanctions have been ended and if and when the conflict here ends, there is a very good chance that Iraq can clean up its river and its other pollution problem. Inshallah. It will just take a loooong time and alot of hard work.

Hope that answers your basic questions.

Sunday, July 04, 2004

A few pictures from my recent pre-survey of the Tigris River ...

Finally, a picture of the "Nile Flower" (with Samir of the Iraqi Green Peace Organization). This plant grows along the rivers edge in floating mats. It was introduced to the Tigris, I was told, in the early 1980's from Egypt and has become an invasive species. Can anyone help me with its scientific name?

Hamza, the Ali Baba Boatman. Hamza decided halfway down the river that we needed to pay him double the agreed price for the trip. So for 20 minutes we floated down the river as the Iraqis onboard argued with him. We ended up giving him 10,000 ID over the original price (approx. $8 more).

The Khark Sewage Treatment Plant outflow. The western side of the Tigris is generally known as the Khark side. As I understand it, under half of the 5 to 6 million people in Baghdad live on the Khark side and the Khark plant treats their sewage. Actually, at present, only 1/3 of the sewage is being treated at the Khark plant (one of the three plants in the city being rebuilt under contract by Bechtel). This was definitely the untreated part.

Christian Parenti, Saadia of the Iraqi Human Rights Assoc., and Harb, Christian's translator. We were waiting for our boatman to get fuel ... unfortunately, he had parked us right downstream of the Khark sewage outflow. If you look carefully, you can see the line that divides the sewage water from the river water.

We made the mistake of approaching this Water Treatment plant. I wanted to know what it was called and what area of the city it served. But as we approached, many armed guards suddenly appeared and they were not happy to see us. It was a scary moment but it ended with them passing down a bunch of apples for us and wishing us luck.

One of the many U.S. helicopter that patrol the city.

A local fisherman with his catch of fish. The fishing, according to the rivermen we've talked to, has not been good for years.

The mouth of the Diyala Tiver that enters the Tigris south of the City, loaded with all the sewage from Rusafa (the eastern bank of the Tigris, where over half of the city's population lives is generally known as Rusafa. It has no functioning sewage treatment at this time.)

A picture of me ... for Mom!

Saturday, July 03, 2004


The following is from a series of emails back and forth between myself and Major Basim at the Iraqi Police (IP) Headquarters.

"Khalo" means "Uncle" and "Khala" means "Aunt."

Khalo Basim,

Glad you got my email. Do you think we need to have a permission letter with us on the boat? I know we will have the police coming with us but I thought it might be wise to have a letter with us from the Iraqi Police stating we have permission to proceed down the river.

It looks like I may have found the boats I need (inshallah) ... they are more expensive than I was hoping but they are fast (140 horsepower... do you think the Iraqi Police boats will be atleast as fast as this???)

Khala Sophia




Khalo ... concerning the speed challenge ... we're ready anytime you are!

Concerning the letter issue ... Hmmmmm, well I'll give you two examples of why we may still need a letter from the IP. Today we did a pre-survey of the lower Tigris (from the Jadriyah Bridge to the mouth of the Diyala) ... It was a really great trip but we had numerous small problems (at one point half-way down the river our boatman stopped the boat and demanded more money ... I definitely wont be using this man for the final trip).

The first real problem was at a small river police station near the Double Decker Bridge. We were passing it by (as we have passed by several without incident) when they stopped us and told us to come back.

"Where is your permission?" they asked, "Do you have a letter?"

We dropped your name and told them that we were conducting a pre-survey of the river to look at pollution problems. That was enough for them and they let us go.

The second problem was a little more serious. We passed by a Water Treatment plant in a location where I didn't realized there was such a plant and I asked our boatman to approach it when I saw some people standing there. I just wanted to get the name of the place and find out what area it served. But as we approached, several armed guards came out and aimed their guns at us. They were definitely upset by our approaching.

"Where is your permission?" they asked, "Do you have a letter?"


We ended up passing them all of our ID's and waiting there about 30 minutes staring back at the muzzles of their guns (not a pleasant experience) until they were satisfied we weren't terrorists. Then they gave us a bunch of apples and sent us on our way.

I have been stopped on nearly all of my presurvey's and usually the boatman can talk us out of it pretty quickly and I always tell the people that stop us what we are doing and let them know that I'm coming back on July 11th with a larger number of boats.

I know that for the final trip we will have an Iraqi Police boat ahead of us (By the way, if you want to challenge us to a speed challenge than you better have more than 140 horses in that engine of yours.) ... but are you REALLY sure we don't need a letter???

Anyway, sorry for the long email ... just had to pester you once more!

Khala Sophia

Thursday, July 01, 2004

Saddam's First Day In Court

As the Saddam's first court appearance played on the BBC with commentary from the British newscaster, I was in a hotel room with an Iraqi woman named Alaa and two American journalists eating lunch. The journalists, between bites of kabob and lamb tikka, spoke very much like the newscaster on the television of the various reactions that the first footage of Saddam since his capture would take in Iraq. I just watched the woman's face.

She watched the images of Saddam on the television intently for awhile. His words were reported in bits and peices by the female newscaster as Iraqi censors had cut the sound from the footage. I wondered what she could be thinking. She had grown up watching this man on television ... Saddam Hussain, the President of Iraq (which is how he introduced himself at the trial we are told) ... had been a figure of the utmost authority in this woman's world for her entire life. This man had evoked fear, hatred, admiration, ... any number of mixed and divergent reactions in the people of Iraq. Now look at him.

Earlier we were told that Saddam had said he had invaded Kuwait for "the Iraqi people."

"That's right," Alaa said without hesitation, "For his family and his relatives." Those Iraqi people.

She watched him on television now, focused but without expression. Then she furrowed her brow for a brief moment and turned away to eat her lunch. There was nothing there anymore that could hold her attention.


An uneventful, hot day driving around to press offices. Al Jazerra, BBC and NY Times look very interested ... I even dropped off a press release at Fox News (yeesh, could I have sunk any lower?) but who knows what will happen in a weeks time.