Six years ago, in February 1998, I traveled to Iraq with a British Voices in the Wilderness team. The US was threatening another massive bombardment. We decided to go to Fallujah in hopes of better understanding the perspective of people whose marketplace had been bombed, in 1991, by a smart bomb that went astray. The blast instantly killed 150 people and wounded hundreds. By the time of our visit, many more had suffered and died during nearly eight years of brutally punitive economic sanctions.
At Fallujah’s main market, we began distributing a leaflet about why we were violating the economic sanctions. Throngs of people pressed toward each of us, eager for leaflets. Separated from my companions and surrounded by people shouting at me as they grabbed leaflets, I began to wonder if this could turn into an ugly scene. One man who spoke English stood in front of me, his eyes blazing. “You Americans! You Europeans!” he shouted. “You come to my home. I show you water you not even give your animals to drink and this is all what we have. And now you want again to kill our children. You cannot kill my son. My son, he was killed in al-harb Bush (the first Bush war).”
“I’m sorry,” I murmured, “I’m so very sorry.” Then his demeanor suddenly changed. “Ah, Madame,” he said, his tone softening, “You are too tired. You come with me, I get you tea.” He helped me maneuver through the crowd until we reached a falafel stand where he served me tea, insisting that I find my friends and bring them to his home for a meal. Since 1996, gracious hospitality characterized nearly every encounter I and other Voices travelers to Iraq experienced.
In 1999, I returned to the Fallujah marketplace, this time with our friend Ahmed, a US citizen, born in the Sinai, who translated for us as we encountered a very similar scene. I spotted a child staring at me. He seemed about 11 years of age, quite poor, extremely intense. “Ahmed, please,” I asked, “ask this young man what he is thinking.” The young boy squared his shoulders and said, “I am a scholar of the faith.” Ahmed posed my question again. This time the answer was direct. “Tell her that I am thinking about how I will become a fighter pilot when I grow up,” said the boy, whose gaze never swerved from mine, “so that I can bomb the United States.” Then Ahmed said, “Kathy, look, pay attention to this man,” pointing to an elderly, balding fellow with huge jowls and white whiskers who had observed my encounter with the youngster. Large tears rolled down his cheeks.
Peacemaking communities throughout the world have refused to regard Iraqi brothers and sisters as enemies. But during an election season when adult discourse about crucial issues is often put on hold, empathy with people in Fallujah won’t score points amongst public relations strategists.
For the past several days, I’ve been asking friends to help me understand the term “pacify.” No explanation seemed satisfactory until one friend bluntly said, “Look, it means you want to win the peace. So you eliminate anyone who might disturb your peace. You suppress them, or terrify them, or remove them, or kill them.”
“Just like what Saddam Hussein did?” I murmured. “Right,” my friend said.
Coalition Authorities were determined to pacify Fallujah before the grisly lynching that took place on Wednesday, March 31. A total of eight Marines had been killed in two weeks of violence that Brigadier General Mark Kimmitt blamed on Fallujah insurgents.
On March 28, 2004, the Philadelphia Inquirer said that Iraqis in Fallujah found leaflets scattered throughout the city bearing an ominous message which the Iraqis believed was left by the Marines. “You can’t escape and you can’t hide . . . the coalition will find you and bring you to justice,” said the Arabic message printed over two steely green eyes. (“Marines Push Against Rebelling Iraqis,” Carol Rosenberg)
Describing events that took place on Tuesday, March 30, the Washington Post reported:
“Marines used tanks and armored fighting vehicles to block the main exits and entrances to Fallujah for the fourth day running . . . The deployment forced thousands of motorists off the main roads and onto bumpy dirt tracks where traffic moved slowly under the watchful eyes of soldiers crouching in the sand behind their guns or atop military vehicles . . . Tanks trained their guns on the al-Askari district. Residents also said marines rolled through the neighborhood and shouted warnings in Arabic through a bullhorn against harboring insurgents . . . Several families heeded the warning and left, according to residents who stayed behind.”
The Marines also reportedly staged door-to-door house raids in search of weapons and suspected insurgents on Monday night and again on Tuesday.
“If they find more than one adult male in any house, they arrest one of them,” claimed resident Khaled Jamaili, 26. “Those Marines are destroying us. They are leaning very hard on Fallujah.” (“Marines Seek to Pacify Fallujah,” Hamza Hendawi, March 31)
I was in the Jenin refugee camp of the West Bank in April 2002, during the immediate aftermath of the IDF operation “Enduring Storm.”
I walked through the remains of 100 three-story buildings that had been destroyed. I watched as young boys with faces as somber as old men helped their fathers carry corpses pulled from the rubble, while IDF snipers positioned on roofs shot over their heads. More pacification? I don’t know.
Afterward I talked with Israeli soldiers. One young soldier said “I was only doing my job.” Another said, “I was just following orders.” Then I glanced at an older Israeli soldier and we both winced. We’d heard these words before.
Pacification methods did not work in the occupied West Bank nor are they likely to work in Afghanistan or in Iraq. We need new methods. And our compassion for people in Iraq also needs to encompass non-Iraqis, including Americans, many of them young, tense, and homesick. On April 15 many of my friends will be in Federal building plazas carrying signs about war tax refusal. Karl Meyer’s sign will say “I haven’t paid taxes in 44 years. Ask me how. Ask me why.”
My sign, were I at liberty to carry it in the federal prison, would say, “I haven’t paid taxes for 25 years. Ask me how. Ask me why.”
Pacification doesn’t work, nor does a $400 billion dollar defense budget that steals prosperity. All of us have the opportunity to make adult choices to protect all the world’s children. Ask us how. Ask us why.
Read more by Kathy Kelly
- What Does War Generate? – July 5th, 2017
- Afghan Street Children Beg for Change – December 30th, 2013
- Thanking Bradley Manning, From Afghanistan – May 29th, 2013
- Tales in a Kabul Restaurant – May 21st, 2013
- Afghan Peace Activist: Drones Bury Beautiful Lives – January 13th, 2013