Sophia's Peace Work

Wednesday, October 13, 2004

Well, I'm back where I started ... New Paltz, New York ... hanging with my friend Lorna, with whom I started this journey nine months ago. It's lovely countryside here, the weather is cool and the leaves are starting to turn, great for some necessary down time ... unfortunately I came back with a foot infection and, thanks to some snotty children on the plane, a cold. So I'm hobbling about the house sniffling and recovering from jet lag.

But I can't afford to do this for long. I have so much to do! Resize and organize all my photos, assemble my thoughts and create some kind of coherent presentation about what the this trip meant, and try to make some connections with people here who might want to help the environmental education project in Iraq.

Baghdad was a difficult place to work for the last few weeks ... trying to stay off the streets, always wearing hijab (only a useful disquise if I ran into very short-sighted Iraqis), being forced to use private cars instead of taxis ... all of this made my work harder and more frustrating. Now I can hardly believe that I'm free of that ... and in a place that is pretty much the polar opposite of Baghdad ... clean, quiet ... peaceful.

Things we take for granted.

Friday, October 08, 2004

Goodbye to Baghdad

It was a beautiful morning in Baghdad and Abbas, my driver to the airport, drove me down a long section of the Tigris River. It was sad to say goodbye to the River, to Baghdad, and to good friends but it's time to go. I was thankful to arrive at the airport without incident ... the road to the Baghdad InternationalAirport is always being attacked because Camp Victory, (Americans do come up with the silliest names for their military bases), is located nearby. I've never been to Camp Victory but I believe that it is located at another one of Saddam's palaces, which was built near the airport).

It was a routine flight aboard a small, propeller plane with AirServe, an airline that offers cheap flights to NGO staff. (I'm told that propeller planes are safer since their engines generate less heat than the Jets do ... always a good thing when you are trying to avoid those pesky heat-seaking missiles). To avoid any attacks they do a steep take off followed by tight corkscrew turns directly above the terminal until they reach the right altitude.

The flight over the Iraqi and Jordanian deserts was just a short hour and a half jump, with just a slightly bumpy landing. I passed through Jordanian Customs and Immigration without incident, haggled a bit with a taxi driver and made it back to my old hangout here in Jordan ... the rather dingy and dinged up but very friendly Al Monzer hotel. I've got a few things to wrap up tomorrow ... and alot of Za'atar (yummy spices), Freekeh (a turkish grain that make a mean breakfast), and olives to buy. Then I fly back to NYC on Sunday.

I can hardly believe it. I'm going home.

Wednesday, October 06, 2004

Stupid Ajnabia!

It's been a frustrating few weeks here in Baghdad ... the restricted travel, the news of all the bombings and it seems like the helicopters fly over my head all the time as if they are searching me out. Some good things have happened. I've been able to connect the Iraqi Environmental NGO's that I've been talking to with some good groups who might be able to help them. But it has also been trying to get the Iraqi Ministry of Environment to publicly release the data results from the July Tigris River Trip that I organized ... and after repeated trips to the Ministry I am throwing my hands up in disgust (if not defeat!).

Perhaps it's just because I'm a stupid "ajnabia amerikiyah" (American foreigner ... and a woman at that!), perhaps they don't like Voices in the Wilderness (even though Voices really wasn't involved in the Tigris River Project, I told the MOE that I was working with Voices and that may have done me in) ... I'm not sure what it is but they just wont give me the information.

It's ridiculous because I know from talking to the Ministry that the data is very basic ... dissolved oxygen, sulfates, phosphates, pH ... that kind of thing ... not anything that could be remotely considered a "state secret."

I went up the chain as high as I could go ... the Director General of Governate Affaires for the Ministry (I have to laugh, because I don't know if this is a "high" office within the Ministry or not ... but you had to walk through alot of rooms overfilled with ministry employees to speak to Mr. Raidh). Today was my last visit with him. In the end, I asked him,

"Is the Tigris River polluted?"

He said that it was, so I asked him,

"Can the Ministry clean up the River by itself?"

He shook his head, no.

"Then you need help from others, right? And if that is the case it is vital that you share information. The information I'm asking for isn't that important in and of itself. It's a small thing, but it sets the precedent for how the Ministry behaves with all its information."

He agreed with me.

I guess that it is simply fear that is the problem. Saddam is gone but the Saddam psychosis that everyone suffers from is alive and well. And when you point this out to people, everyone nods their heads in agreement ... they even joke about it. They think of it like it's the weather ... it's raining cats and dogs outside but, oh well, what can you do about that? It may be awful but you just have to put up with it. The only thing is that it ISN'T like the weather ... it is a human attitude that merely perpetuates itself in the absence of anyone who is courageous enough to stand up and change it.

So I thanked him for his time and said goodbye. There wasn't much more I could do.


Anyway, I'm here for just one more day and then return back to the States soon thereafter.

Sunday, October 03, 2004

More from the Team in Hebron


HEBRON, WEST BANK - This morning members of the Christian Peacemaker Team(CPT) again escorted children from Tuba to their school in Tiwani in the South Hebron hills. They attempted to follow the same path, past the Ma'on settlement, as Chris Brown and Kim Lamberty had taken when they were attacked and badly injured last Wednesday 29th September.

Despite a military permit confirming the children's right to pass, the army and the settler security police blocked their path, declaring it to be a Closed Military Zone. After long negotiations the Israeli police finally allowed the children to pass with a police escort but without their CPT accompaniers.

On their journey home the children, with their CPT escort, were forced to take a 10-km detour along ill-defined sheep tracks. The actions of the military have made it clear that they are responding more to the wishes of the settlers than to the needs of the school children. Indeed the Lieutenant in command said outright - "Ten km is not a long wayto school. I went further than that. They can take a tractor like everyone else. These people are used to it".

Christian Peacemaker Teams are present in the area at the request of Palestinian villagers who are suffering repeated harassment from Israeli settlers while Israeli authorities have failed to intervene.


Meanwhile, here in Baghdad, I spent a frustrating day in the fruitless pursuit of PERMISSION at the Iraqi Ministry of Environment. Ah joy.

Bored in Baghdad

Since my friend and driver Mazin is enrolled at the University of Baghdad (he's studying French), I've lost my mobility, so I'm spending alot of time in my hotel room. I thought it would be good for me ... time to clean up the files on my computer, organizer my pictures, start creating a presentation that can make sense of the eight months I've spent in the Middle East ... even time to study Arabic. But I've a pathological lazy streak when I'm stuck in one place for too long. I was able to visit the house by the river where I used to stay tonight ... the river's low right now ... and tomorrow a friend will drive me back to the Ministry of Environment.

I don't have high expectations of the Ministry ... I'm trying to get a) the results of the Tigris River Project water samples (you'd think this would be easy to get since I organized the whole thing) and b) a current list of Iraqi Environmental NGOs (which they gave me once before just for the asking). Iraq was a closed society under Saddam and it's still a closed society. So silly but I guess (grudgingly) to be expected.

Friday, October 01, 2004

An update from the team in Hebron ... sounds like the Army is blaming the victim.


HEBRON, WEST BANK - The Christian Team (CPT) in Hebron has replaced its two members, Chris Brown and Kim Lamberty, who were attacked and injured on Wednesday morning by Israelis from the Ma'on settlement outpost. This morning children from the South Hebron village of Tuba were able to reach school safely in Tiwani. A police jeep outside the settlement helped to ensure a peaceful journey. The District Coordinating Officer (DCO) has confirmed the children's right to use the "settler road" to go to school.

Unfortunately an Israeli army patrol entered Tiwani today warning villagers that violence (for which they blamed CPT) would occur if children continued to use the road. It is clear that the army patrol is acting without proper authority, but this is no comfort to villagers and their CPT accompaniers who must bear the consequences.

Christian Peacemaker Teams are present in the area at the request of Palestinian villagers who are suffering repeated harassment from Israeli settlers while Israeli authorities have failed to intervene.

I've included the following article reprinted from the Tikkun Community as I think it is a valuable contribution to the debate on violence and nonviolence.

Violence or Non-Violence Debate in Israel/Palestine,
September 4, 2004

The recent formation of a non-violence campaign in Palestine, spurred by the visit of the grandson of Mahatma Gandhi, has generated a fervent debate in both the Israeli and Palestinian peace movement about the relative efficacy of non-violence. While we at Tikkun come down firmly on the side of non- violence, and cheer on the work of this latest Gandhi and some of the Palesitnian leaders who are now seeking to follow that path, like Sami Awad, in this communication we are first going to present an article by Uri Avneri that shows some of the complications of the debate going on today in Palestine. After Avneri's article, we will present some criticisms of Avneri from our own position of principled non-violence.

And after that we present some troubling news that happened today, just before the Jewish holiday of Sukkot, when members of the non-violent Christian Peace Makers Team were allegedly attacked and beaten by Israeli settlers. This comes immediately after the terrible reality of Yom Kippur on which many Palestinians found themselves prevented from leaving their homes and many more from leaving their villages which were surrounded by the Israeli army during this offical "closure" as a "preventive measure against terror." What a shandah--that our holidays should be observed at the expense of this repression. And how terrible for Israelis also to be living at a such a level of fear that otherwise decent people would consider that kind of an outrageous measure necessary for self-defense. Please read the rest of this email to get a sense of the debate and our response to it.

Uri Avnery 4.9.04 How Are You, Non-Violence?

At the mass meeting with Arun Gandhi, the grandson of the Mahatma, in Abu-Dis, I observed the faces of the participants. While Gandhi was preaching non-violence, I imagined a debate between two young Palestinians in the audience.

Yussuf: "He is right. The armed intifada has failed."

Hassan: "On the contrary. Without the actions of the martyrs, the world would have forgotten us long ago."

Yussuf: "For half a year there were no suicide attacks in Israel, and look what we have achieved!"

Hassan: "We have achieved nothing. On the contrary, the Israeli generals boast that they have defeated us with their targeted assassinations, incursions into our territories and all the other acts of oppression. And all this time they have been enlarging the settlements, putting up new 'outposts' and continuing to build the racist wall."

Yussuf: "You forget that the International Court has declared the wall illegal and the UN General Assembly has confirmed this with a huge majority. All of Europe voted in our favor. We are winning in the arena of world public opinion."

Hassan: "What is that worth, if in the meantime Sharon does what he wants, goes on keeping Arafat in a cage and spits in the face of Abu-Ala, while Abu-Ala is advocating non- violence?"

Yussuf: "Even the senior jurists in Israel itself warn Sharon that if he goes on like this, the United Nations will end up imposing sanctions on Israel."

Hassan: "But in the meantime, the opposite is happening. Because of the lull in suicide attacks, the Israeli economy is reviving. Tourism to Israel, that had stopped altogether because of our actions, is starting up again. If the Israelis feel comfortable and are no longer afraid of suicide bombers, why should they talk with us? Why should they give back any territories? Why should they stop enlarging the settlements? They don't give a damn."

Yussuf: "We have to win international public opinion. We can do this only by non-violence. I admire the martyrs who are ready to die for our people. I am proud that we have such heroes. But they don't get us anywhere. They only provide Sharon with pretexts to oppress us even more."

Hassan: "As if Sharon needs pretexts! He wants to break us, and world public opinion will not lift a finger for us. The treacherous Arab leaders will not do anything for us, either. Only our heroes will save us."

Yussuf: "But Gandhi argues that non-violent methods will be more successful. His grandfather proved this in India."

Hassan: "He doesn't know the Israelis. The Israeli army will open fire on any non-violent Palestinian demonstration that reaches serious proportions."

Yussuf: "Look at the brothers who scaled the wall. That is an example of successful non-violent action, breaking the law of the occupier openly and without fear! "

Hassan: Don't kid yourself. If Arun Gandhi and the Israelis hadn't been there, the soldiers would have shot and killed them. Later they would have announced that they were wanted terrorists. You remember the beginning of the al-Aksa intifada, when there were unarmed mass demonstrations? The Israeli army brought in snipers and killed the leaders. Please, this is not India, and the Israelis are not Englishmen. They understand only the language of force."

Yussuf: "But that is exactly what they say about us!"

This kind of debate is now going on everywhere in Palestinian society, perhaps in every Palestinian family. The Yussufs have no success in convincing the Hassans, and I am afraid that Gandhi will not succeed either, because they lack the decisive argument. Abu-Mazen, who advocates non- violence, got nothing from Sharon. Half a year without suicide attacks inside Israel have not brought the Palestinians any achievements on the ground. Therefore, the suicide attack in Beer Sheva, just a week after the Gandhi rally, was to be expected.

As long as the Sharon government, with the active encouragement of President Bush, goes on enlarging the settlements, building the Wall and all the other actions of annexation, there is no way to convince Palestinian public opinion to turn its back on violence. And only a decisive change in Palestinian public opinion can put an end to suicide attacks. No wall will stop people who are ready to die in order to carry out attacks, and the Palestinians have already proved that they have any number of such people.

Ehud Barak, a very violent person, once said that if he had been a young Palestinian, he would have joined a terrorist organization. Obviously, he doesn't believe that non-violence will succeed against the Israeli army. And he should know. I was impressed by the teachings of Mahatma Gandhi. He was the greatest liberator of the 20th century, achieving freedom for the whole Indian subcontinent, including present- day Pakistan and Bangladesh. (But Gandhi also said that Hitler should be opposed only by non-violent means, and even his most ardent admirers found it hard to accept that.)

[Avneri concludes:] In my youth I joined two very violent organizations (the Irgun and the Israeli army), but after I was wounded near the end of the 1948 war there were several months when the very thought of combat caused me physical nausea. I detest violence in all its forms, but how can it be stopped? There are people amongst us who are ready for a compromise peace but have been led to believe that "there is no one we can talk with", because "they" don't want peace but seek to annihilate us. But we must understand that Palestinian violence, which causes so much bloodshed, is the predictable result of our cutting off every other road in front of them. I am convinced that it is possible to put an end to violence in our country - if we offer the Palestinian people an alternative, non-violent way of achieving freedom and justice. Anyone who believes that a wall will succeed in stopping suicide attacks might as well rely on the amulets of Kabbalist rabbis.

A Tikkun Response to the Violence/NonViolence Debate

We have the greatest respect for Uri Avneri, but we have no sympathy with the side of the argument presented in favor of violent struggle against Israeli civilians.

The pragmatic argument that is made, "We've tried non- violence and it has failed," is completely false. It's not true that a demonstration is non-violent when its participants don't use guns but "only" throw rocks at the IDF. It's not non-violent when you do your best to land rocks on the heads of your opponent. It may be "less violent" but it's not non-violent. That Palestinians make this argument is a reflection of their failure to even understand what a non-violent movement would look like.

The strategic argument for non-violence goes like this: Every oppressor gets locked into their position as oppressor in part out of fear that should they remove their boot from the neck of the oppressed, the oppressed will jump up and do to the oppressor the same horrific things that they oppressor has done to the oppressed. If you want to get the oppressor to lift the boot, you must convince the oppressor that he/it/they will NOT face this reversal in which the oppressor becomes the oppressed. And that is no easy sales job, because understandably the oppressed have lots of anger, and that anger is felt by the oppressor who feels the need to strengthen their hold on the neck of the oppressed--for self-protection.

The major strategic goal of the oppressed, in this case, must be to convince the oppressor that the oppressed have been able to retain a sense of the humanity of the oppressor, and have decided not to return "eye-for-eye" vengeance should they be in a position to do so. The commitment to non-violence is one of the most powerful ways to convey that message.
But if conveying that message is the goal of the non-violence, then the non-violence must be total and must be held in ways that become credible to the oppressor. It can't be that 95% of your actions are non-violent, and only 5% violent, because those 5% who are violent may be the very ones who will use their violence to dominate the oppressed once they have been liberated, and to use the position of power that they achieve through violence to inflict terrible violence on the current oppressor. So, if you want to convince the oppressor that you see their humanity and do not intend to do back to them the horrible crimes they did to you, you cannot be partially non- violent or tactically non-violent. The non-violence has to be persistent, determined, and principled.

That is the kind of non-violence employed by Martin Luther King that thawed through the consciousness of racists in the South and the kind of non-violence used by Nelson Mandela in South Africa.

In his new book The Geneva Accord and Other Strategies for Middle East Peace (North Atlantic Books, 2004) Rabbi Michael Lerner argues that there is an important distinction the progressives, peace movement and social justice movement must learn: the difference between what is right and fair, on the one side, and what is smart on the other. Lerner argues that it is NOT fair to ask an oppressed group to take on the burden of convincing the oppressor that the oppressed continue to see the oppressors as human beings deserving of respect and deserving to not be subjected to the same indignities that they have visited on the oppressed. NOT FAIR. But, IT IS SMART. And it is one of the few ways that one can imagine from the vantage point of US and global politics in 2004 how the Palestinian people are ever going to get out from under the boot of Israeli Occupation with its attendant forms of oppression. The problem is, argues Lerner, that many people on the Left, and many Palestinians, would rather be right than be smart. But from the standpoint of The Tikkun Community, whose goal is to end the Occupation, strategies to end oppression of those who are really in deep pain and suffering should be chosen on the basis of what is most effective, not solely on the basis of what is most fair.

Of course, we have yet another reason to go this direction: we fully believe in non-violence in principle. We've seen too much killing being done in the name of some "reasonable" argument by zealots on every side of too many issues. It's time to stop the murders on all sides. And let it begin with us.

Please circulate this discussion far and wide. We think it helps clarify some of the important issues facing Palestinian activists and gets us inside their frame of argument. So help your friends understand it.

While you are at it, please join The Tikkun Community, our interfaith organization seeking peace and justice for all peoples in the Middle East. A voice of reason, a voice calling for recognition of the legitimate needs of the Palestinian people, but a voice that rejects violence (on all sides)--that is the voice that is so badly needed in American politics. The Tikkun Community is the progressive pro-Israel and pro-Palestine alternative to AIPAC--but it can only be that if you join and help us financially. That is just the reality: the number of people who belong, and the amount of money it can mobilize, will be the decisive factor in determining whether a progressive Middle Path that is both pro-Israel and pro-Palestine can get any traction in American politics discourse. And that depends entirely on whether you will join and get your friends and acquaintances to do same.

People can join The Tikkun Community at or by calling Stephanie or Liz at 510 644 1200 during working hours 9-6 Pacific Standard Time (we are in Berkeley, Ca.). If you joined in a past year, please renew (we may not have made it clear that this is an annual membership organization, and we can only survive if you renew your membership each year).

TROUBLING NEWS FROM HEBRON: CHRISTIAN PEACE MAKER TEAM ATTACKED, ALLEGEDLY BY ISRAELI SETTLERS. HEBRON DISTRICT: CPTers Kim Lamberty and Chris Brown badly injured by settlers in the south Hebron hills At about 7:15am on the morning of Wednesday September 29, 2004 settlers attacked Christian Peacemaker Team members Chris Brown and Kim Lamberty as they accompanied children to school. The children, from the village of Tuba, have experienced harassment from settlers in the past as they went to school in the village of al-Tuwani.

The five settlers, dressed in black and wearing masks, came from an outpost of the nearby Ma'on settlement and attacked Brown and Lamberty with a chain and bat. All of the children escaped injury by running back to their homes. The settlers pushed Brown to the ground, whipped him with a chain and kicked him in the chest, which punctured his lung. They kicked and beat Lamberty's legs. She is not able to walk because of an injury to her knee and has a broken arm.

The settlers also stole Lamberty's waistpack, which held her passport, money and cellular phone. Lamberty and Brown were taken by ambulance to Soroka hospital in Beer Sheva for treatment. Hebron Team Support person, Rich Meyer, reports that the two CPTers told him they are receiving excellent care from Israeli doctors.

Children from four small Palestinian villages walk to a central school in the village of al-Tuwani. Because settlers have harassed the children since school began in September, and the Israeli police would not intervene to prevent the attacks, the villagers have sought the protection of international accompaniment. A coalition comprising Christian Peacemaker Teams, the Israeli group Tayush and members of Operation Dove, (an Italian Christian organization that undertakes accompaniment work similar to CPT's work), set up a presence in the village of al-Tuwani beginning on September 12, 2004.

The three groups initially committed themselves to six weeks of accompaniment after members of these organizations witnessed settler attacks on children each time they made exploratory visits to the area. Christian Peacemaker Teams, Operation Dove and Tayush plan to continue accompanying children to school in al-Tuwani. Journalists wishing more information may call Hebron Team Supporter person Rich Meyer at 574-202 3920.

For those of us committed to non-violence, it may be time to start creating more of these non-violent observer teams. (Sophia's Note: One example might be the Nonviolent Peaceforce). And to get local city councils to endorse the Tikkun Resolution for Middle East Peace--which explicitly calls for the U.S. and other nations to create an international intervention to separate and protect Israelis and Palestinians and protect each side (we have repeatedly and unequivocally condemned suicide bombers and other acts of terror against Israelis by Palestinians and have no more sympathy for them than we have for these disgusting acts of violence against Palestinians and those who seek to defend them).

What is actually needed is a global U.N. force of millions of volunteers who are willing to go anywhere in the world where violence is happening and to be non-violent interveners who report on what is happening, take non-violent acts to prevent it, etc. Something of this sort is needed immediately in Israel/Palestine and in Darfur/Sudan. Would that American media were willing to raise this sort of discussion during the election campaign and get America focused on how to reduce global violence instead of on how to insure that America "wins" its violent struggle in Iraq.

Oh the hypocrisy of those who bemoan violence in one place as they perpetrate it in another! And that goes for us too--because we have not always been consistent on this issue in Tikkun, and have to acknowledge that as well! (We supported a U.S. military intervention in Bosnia and Kosovo to stop the genocide there, and in retrospect the good that that accomplished may be outweighed by the bad of legitimizing military interventions that could then have led us to the war in Iraq and to a 21st century in which countries’ military responses are becoming more and more "acceptable" to people who should know how violence begets more violence. But not to be on too high a horse here, we also have to acknowledge reasonable debates about this, particularly in relationship to the issue of stopping genocide and self-defense, and our openness in Tikkun magazine and in The Tikkun Community to further explore and debate this issue (particularly the issue of what is and is not self-defense, since it is on that slippery slope that the Occupation of the West Bank, construction of the Wall, and, in the U.S., the Patriot Act and the war in Iraq and the possible forthcoming war with Iran or North Korea are built).

So we apologize if we seemed in this note to be a bit too huffy or self-righteous about those who do not share the non-violence position totally, given that we ourselves are debating it internally and only some of us have fully embraced it, and that only for a relatively few years. We want a world based on love, but not one based on guilt, so we apologize for guilt-inducing rhetoric on this difficult issue.

Blessings for a world committed 100% to non-violence. May it happen speedily and in our day, bimheyra beyameynu.