Sophia's Peace Work

Sunday, March 26, 2006

Proper Channels

I'm still traveling away from the Middle East but I just got this update from the Christain Peacemaker Team in Iraq. It's an interesting read. I heard from an Iraqi friend that the border between Jordan and Iraq was closed due to a group of Palestinian refugees ... then I got a message from Beth after she had left the group and traveled back to Amman. Even in the midst of the death of Tom Fox and the release of their three delegation members, CPT remains a positive force.

I also felt the comment about "proper channels" very interesting. As regard to refugees fleeing a country that is persecuting them, they would probably all be dead if they had waited for "proper channels."

Palestinian Encampment at the Jordanian Border
By Peggy Gish, 22 March, 2006

"You will not be allowed to leave Iraq unless the Iraqi Ministry of Interior authorizes it and the Jordanian government agrees for you to enter Jordan," an Iraqi border official told the eighty-eight Palestinian Iraqis who had just arrived at the Iraqi side of the border with Jordan. Early morning Saturday, 19 March, they left
Baghdad and traveled the dangerous road to the western border, because of continued violence against the Palestinian community there. Now, at 9:00pm the border was closed. The sixteen Palestinian families, including 42 children, would have to spend the cold desert night in their two buses.

CPTers Beth Pyles and Peggy Gish, who had accompanied the group of Palestinians, talked with the official, arranged for a meeting with his supervisor the following morning, and made calls to United Nations High Commissioner on Refugees (UNHCR) representatives in Baghdad and Jordan. Then they settled into their seats on the bus to sleep.

The next morning CPTers in Baghdad called a human rights officer at the Iraqi Ministry of Interior, to discuss the Palestinians' request to leave. During a break in the conversation for translation, the line was cut. Meanwhile at the border, after waiting an hour and half to meet with the border official, a man came and told Pyles and Gish that the Palestinians' request to leave Iraq would be granted.
If they left, however, they would not be allowed to return to Iraq. Somehow, by someone, the "door" had been opened!

Later when the buses left the Iraqi border gates and drove into the "no man's land" between borders, they were stopped by Jordanian police and officials who demanded that the refugees return to Iraq. They refused. Pyles and Gish told the Jordanian officials about the extreme threat that prompted the Palestinian group's flight from
Iraq and explained that the refugees were not allowed to re-enter Iraq.

After forcing the buses to turn around and return to a place closer to the Iraqi border gates, a Jordanian policeman insulted one of the bus drivers. The driver jumped out yelling and ready to fight. Soon there was a line of Jordanian soldiers and police on the Jordanian side of the road with their guns ready, and a line of Iraqi soldiers and police with their guns ready to respond. In between, stood about
twenty Palestinians who had left the bus. Pyles and Gish listened to the bus driver, asked the Jordanian police chief to tell his men that insulting the driver was unacceptable behavior, and called for both sides to stay calm.

On the barren desert ground just outside the Iraqi border gates, each Palestinian family made a pile of their belongings. Several erected the one tent that the group brought along. Palestinian leaders completed a list of each person in the group that Gish and Pyles would take to a UNHCR representative in eastern Jordan. Gish and Pyles found it hard to say "good-bye" to the families and head toward Amman while the worried but determined Palestinian women, men and children braced themselves for the approaching sand storm.

In the following days, UNHCR in Jordan sent a representative to do an assessment of the needs of the group on the border in order to prepare a plan of action. The Iraqi Red Crescent responded by bringing the group four more tents and food and water. In response to a press release from the Iraq team, international media published the story of the plight of Palestinians in Iraq.

On Wednesday, March 22, a representative of UNHCR in Baghdad confirmed the report that Palestinians on the border were forced to move from their no man's land location to two buildings just inside the Iraqi border in order to ease the heightened tensions between Iraq and Jordan. An Iraqi Colonel told them they could stay there for up to a week, and that they will be allowed to exit Iraq again
if the Jordan will let them in. At this point, however, entry into Jordan seems unlikely.

When the Palestinian group initially arrived on the border, Jordanian officials expressed anger toward them and toward CPT for accompanying them, saying they must go through the "proper channels." As this trip progressed, however, it became clear to CPTers that there are no real or good options through proper channels for these Palestinians to find safe refuge and that it is essential that there be basic changes in how nations and international organizations respond to groups of people fleeing extreme threat. The Iraq team's main motivation for this accompaniment was violence prevention. This group of Palestinians left primarily to escape death and persecution. Unfortunately it may take such confrontive actions to change the status quo and make a clear statement that positive options must be found.

Sunday, March 19, 2006

Traveling ...

Monday, March 06, 2006

The Flu

Bird Flu was confirmed in Kurdistan, Northern Iraq a few weeks ago and I knew it would only be a matter of time before we'd here stories such as the one below from the Christian Peacemaker Team in Baghdad.

22 February, 2006
BIRD FLEW By Allan Slater, CPT

Yes, the fruits on this tree are delicious but we will not be eating them this year because of bird flu. This was the answer I got when I asked about the cherry sized fruit growing on a tree in a friend's garden. The threat of bird flu from wild birds or chickens has really thrown a scare into the people of Iraq. Birds also steal fruits from the tree in question so the family fears that they may touch some bird droppings on the fruit.

About two weeks ago the man who barbeques chicken on our main street just stopped work. No one would buy his chicken any more. The only chicken available is in the freezers of some grocery stores where it has been sitting for three weeks or more. The store owners are happy to see CPT shoppers because we are the only people still eating chicken. Our landlord has a friend in the importing business. He bought a 20 tonne load of frozen chicken in Egypt. The load was inspected and certified safe but when it got to the
Iraqi border clearance was delayed. So 20 tonnes of chicken slowly rotted in the truck.

The price of eggs has dropped. I assume that people have reduced consumption of them also. The prices of beef and lamb have risen at the same time because they are now the only sources of animal protein. Chicken and eggs have been the least expensive sources of
protein in a country where children already lack dietary protein for healthy growth. This public fear of bird flu is likely going to worsen that problem.

Suicide bombings, rocket attacks, kidnappings continue unabated in this chaotic place but the people of Iraq can join the rest of the world in fearing the outbreak of a world-wide bird flue epidemic.

Friday, March 03, 2006

Environmental Action in Hebron

My buddies in Hebron in the West Bank just sent out this update of their environmental clean up in the Tel Rumeida area of town where Jewish Settler families live above Palestinian neighbors. When I was there in 2004, I saw that in some areas in and around the old city of Hebron where the Settlers live literally on top of Palestinians homes and shops, they throw their garbage down upon the Palestinians. In a few places the Palestinians have hung up fencing to catch the garbage so that it doesn't rain down on their heads. When I first saw this I was shocked that people could do such a thing to one another, not out of ignorance or stupidity ... but simply out of spite. Last summer, taking this same spirit even further, Settlers in the southern Hebron hills spread poison grain upon the hills where Palestinian graze their flocks ... as if they were spreading poison to rid themselves of vermin. A number of sheep and wild animals died and the health of the Palestinains were threatened as a result.

As someone interested in humanitarian issues, I see this as a human rights crime. As an environmentalist, I see it as an act of environmental terrorism. As a person, it saddens me that Isreal refuses to address these issues, and by it's refusal, gives its approval for such acts to continue.

CPTHebronNews 2006-03-03: Tel Rumeida's Cycle of Trash

March 3, 2006 - By Jerry Levin

The urgent letter from the Hebron Rehabilitation Committee asking for help complained that among other acts of insolence and worse the "seven Jewish families settling in Tel Rumeida" have been throwing their garbage into nearby Palestinian yards for years.

So at mid morning March 1, CPTers Tracy Hughes, Bourke Kennedy, Billy Baldwin, and Jerry Levin along with some local volunteers headed for a Palestinian home which sits helpless at the bottom of a forty foot high bluff. At the top are Tel Rumeida settlement caravan homes. For many years its inhabitants have been pushing and dropping all kinds of debris over the side and down on their frustrated neighbors.

However, before it arrived, the group was overtaken by an Israeli army patrol. The patrol leader, not liking Levin taking pictures of his men, shouted as they approached, "No. No."

When Levin asked "No, what?" the patrol leader pointing at the camera and started toward him saying "Give. Give."

"Give? Give? You know I can take pictures of you and your men and don't have to give you my camera or my pictures," Levin replied.

So, the patrol leader changed his demand. "Give me your number. Give me your number."

"Give me your number?" Levin again asked. "What does that mean?" sure, however, that the soldier meant Levin should surrender his passport.

"Never mind," the soldier snarled, "I will remember you." Then he and his soldiers moved on.

Later the patrol appeared on the bluff overlooking the yard where the trash removal was taking place. They watched during the entire dusty, dirty, damp two hour process. The area from which the trash was removed was once a grape arbor about fifteen feet wide by fifty feet long. It was so covered with trash after several years of littering that one could hardly see the ground or the sides of the bluff. About fifteen large approximately 40 gallon or so gallon yard bags were filled with small trash: soggy paper, garbage, small sand bags, wire, pieces of scrap wood, bottles, soiled diapers, etc. Larger items such
as pieces of broken toilet, a four foot length of plastic pipe, several pieces of heavy screening of various dimensions, coils of rusted and newer razor wire, and large planking, often almost completely buried in damp dirt had to be pulled out one item at a time.

At one point, Levin took pictures of the soldiers peering down from the top of the bluff. Again one soldier waved at him shouting, "No. No." Levin waved back.

The CPTers snapped before and after pictures, as did the Palestinians. But, after thanking the CPTers, one of the HRC organizers suggested someone from the team return with a camera the next day.

"Why," he was asked.

"You shall see," he said wearily.

The next morning, Levin returned with his camera to the scene of the clean up. There he found a few bits of new debris – clearly thrown down from above - already despoiling the area.