Feb. 24th, 20 of us set up a 4-day tent encampment in the Demilitarized
Zone between Iraq and Kuwait. "Between heaven and hell, that's
how I felt, the whole day" said our Franciscan priest, Jerry
we arrrived, the sky was darkening, thunder rumbled across the desert.
Yet the border area, desolate and dramatic, was oddly still. Neville
Watson, an Australian lawyer and Uniting Church minister, recalled
the original Gulf Peace Team camp in January, 1991. Then, anticipating
war, our encampment on the Iraq side of the Iraq-Saudi border, was
filled with futility and despair the first night of the Gulf War.
Huddled together beneath the clear skies on a cold moonless night,
72 of us watched and listened as bombers flew overhead once every
five minutes. Within three days, Iraq's electrical grid was destroyed,
along with much of its crucial infrastructure. Now, 12 years later,
Neville murmured, "What does it take to stop such madness? Is
Later in the day, Neville and I agreed there are significant
differences, mainly because so many people now feel a personal commitment
to stop this war.
Yesterday we walked to the border post carrying enlarged
vinyl banners bearing pictures of people we've met. From a short distance
it almost looked as though these friends were walking alongside us.
Examining the pictures more carefully, I recognized several children
from the nearby village of Abu Faloos, a forlorn little place known
to us mainly because a little girl who lives there was struck by a
bomb on January 25, 1999. The bomb, aimed at a fertilizer factory,
missed its intended target and hit Israa as she left her school. She
now has only one arm and bears large scars on her torso and belly.
After we leave the border, we can bring the beautiful vinyl pictures
of children from Abu Faloos to the village. What an adornment.
A bevy of Basra shoeshine boys had wished us well
as we left for the border. Akram, Haider, Zayn, and Ali are grade
school kids who've befriended us through multiple visits. Archbishop
Kassab blessed us and invited Jerry to return and celebrate a Liturgy.
Some of us went to visit friends in Jumurriyah, Basra's poorest neighborhood,
during later afternoon hours.
We attached the posters on the border crossing gate.
We draped paper cranes made by school children from Eureka, CA over
a tall rusted rectangle frame in the roadway and then wrapped a second
string of the colorful tiny paper birds over a stretch of ugly coiled
barbed wire. We read aloud letters, some of them poignantly funny
in their crude level of awareness, from high school students in Western
Presently our outreach effort reaches a large support
network and thousands beyond – messages stream forth in hope of stopping
a war. The tiny arrow we represent points to possibilities of unarmed
intervention, someday – perhaps in a future when America gains political
last night, air raid sirens droned for several minutes before midnight.
I thought of my visit, several weeks ago, with a Basran friend who
was confined to bed rest because of a difficult pregnancy. She and
her children live on the second floor of a small cramped dwelling.
"My children – they hear siren and they seize me. They insist,
they want me to come downstairs. And I tell them, 'No, there is no
difference between upstairs and downstairs. There is protection only
in Allah and Allah is everywhere.'" And so it goes. The massive
capacity for destruction on the other side of this border can erupt
across this very road where we now sit, damning many thousands to
hellfire in the weeks ahead.
Vulnerable, unarmed, without the slightest desire
to bring harm to American people, a haven and heaven of innocence
dwells in neighborhoods, throughout villages and cities, on this side
– on the cusp of heaven and hell.