Don’t Turn Off the War

by JENNIFER LOEWENSTEIN

I’ve said it myself many times. I need a break from this awful business I can’t watch any more news about Iraq or Palestine. I’m dreading this bloody war and want an escape. Spare me the euphemisms and lies, the blas? manner with which our leaders and their collective media mouthpieces talk about killing and death, the intellectualizing over war costs and causes by people who have never seen or heard an F-16 drop a bomb on a civilian building. There are people –with families, lives, histories, hopes and dreams for the future– in that building. Get me out of here. I want to forget. Please, turn off the war.

An email message from a good friend in Madison read, “I need to distance myself from the news lately, I find, because it makes me crazy.” How many of us have echoed this sentiment? But then, there I was on the telephone to a friend in Rafah, in the Gaza Strip, ranting on about US foreign policy in the Middle East and how I couldn’t stand it any more. He listened to me quietly, sympathetically –and answered in a voice full of fatigue, “I wish I could switch it off, too.”

But if you live in Iraq or Palestine, if you live anywhere in the Middle East today, you can’t switch it off. You can’t escape. Our war-mongering, rapacious actions have turned a chaotic, suffering region into an even greater hell. Normal, every-day living involves the anticipation of bombings and mass killing, of wondering if your children are safe, of wondering if you’ll make it to work that day past the checkpoints, of wondering if there will be any water or electricity, of wondering what targets the U.S. will strike in Iraq (some people think the war hasn’t yet started) and of how many more civilians will die or which homes the Israelis will bulldoze and whose lives they will turn upside down this time.

There are many links between what is going on in Iraq and what is going on in Palestine– despite what our media and politicians insist. We can blot out, ignore, or re-write realities over here if we want, but Iraqis and Palestinians are bound together by the rule of US-Israeli terror in the region. There is no running away. No changing the channel. You can’t resist. If you do, you’re as good as dead. You are the enemy.

The news out of Iraq and Palestine barely reaches the United States. How many people here could tell you, for example, that just since the beginning of the year 2003, there have been 20 US bombing raids in Iraq and that a number of civilians have been wounded and killed in these raids. How many know that US and British warplanes have bombed more than 80 targets in southern Iraq over the past five months, “conducting an escalating air war even as UN weapons inspectors proceed and diplomats look for ways to head off a full-scale war”? (Irish Times; 1/16/03)

How many people here know that in some of these bombing raids, which have over the years destroyed much of the civilian infrastructure of Iraq (a war crime, according to international law), US pilots have dropped millions of leaflets in the southern “no-fly zone” (also illegal under international law) warning Iraqis not to repair damaged facilities? (Matt Kelley, Associated Press; 2/11/03, among others).

How many are aware that childhood cancers, especially Leukemia, have skyrocketed in Iraq as the result of US-made depleted uranium shells dropped over southern Iraq in 1991? How many understand what it is like to live in an environment polluted and poisoned beyond repair? How many know that seven out of 10 infant deaths in Iraq result from diarrhea or acute respiratory infections linked to polluted water and malnutrition?

How many people here understand what it means to live under the constant threat of war, not knowing if you will be alive tomorrow, if your family is safe, your friends still alive? How many know that Iraqis are facing a humanitarian disaster? That more than half the Iraqi population is dependent on food aid from the outside? That Iraq has suffered the greatest increase of child mortality in the world as a result of US-sponsored sanctions, the destruction of sewage and electricity plants, and resulting malnutrition? (Oxfam Briefing Note; www.oxfam.org.uk/policy/papers/iraq) Is this not a form of chemical and biological warfare?

How many know that when the “official” war begins, estimates of Iraqi civilian deaths are as high as 250,000 under the planned aerial bombardment of Baghdad because the more people we kill, the lower US and British casualties are likely to be? How many care that Iraq had nothing to do with the September 11 attacks against the US? That the average Iraqi had nothing to do with the rise of Saddam Hussein, whose ascent to power was openly supported, even financed, by the United States? How many of us even begin to understand the real meaning of terror?

How many people here know that the Israeli occupation forces are bulldozing family homes, farms, and businesses every day in the Gaza Strip and the West Bank to make way for a massive wall not just separating Palestinians and Israelis, but forcing Palestinians into smaller and more overcrowded ghettos? Why have there been no news reports of the destruction of fresh-water wells, hospitals, schools and childcare centers? Why have we not seen the faces of the nearly 2000 Palestinian men, women, and children dead since the outbreak of the new Intifada?

Why do people look doubtful or indignant when you tell them that ethnic cleansing and apartheid are a central feature of Israeli political policies and that people in the United States are the principal financial and military subsidizers? That the war against Iraq could well facilitate the now-mainstream policy of “Transfer” or mass expulsion of the Palestinians out of what is left of their land?

Iraqis and Palestinians can’t turn off their televisions sets or ignore the daily news in order to make it go away. We have made war, destruction, and military threats an inescapable, brutal reality of their lives, haunting them day and night. We have united Iraqis and Palestinians under an umbrella of US-sponsored terrorism. To turn off the war here is to betray the people on whose behalf we must struggle now. It is up to us to stop our racist, sadistic, and murderous regime before it proceeds one step further. It is up to us to put hope in place of terror. Don’t turn off the war now. The struggle has barely begun.

JENNIFER LOEWENSTEIN lives in Madison, Wisconsin. She spent a good part of the last three years in Palestinian refugee camps in the Gaza Strip, the West Bank and Lebanon. She is a member of the Palestine/Israel Peace & Justice Alliance (PIPAJA) and a founder of the Rafah-Madison Sister City Project. She can be reached at: jsarin@facstaff.wisc.edu

To get involved or for more information, call (608) 215-9157 or subscribe to the PIPAJA listserve at: PIPAJA-subscribe@yahoooogroups.com.

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