Look Them in the Eye
On Day 6 of a 30 day "Walk for Justice," our team of fourteen walkers rested after covering 10 miles of a planned 320 mile walk across central Illinois.
While most of us sank into overstuffed chairs and couches to examine our blisters, Milan Rai, a UK activist and author, went on line to study the news. "Better look at this," he said. "The LA Times reports that Iraqis in Ramadi are desperate to flee impending attacks and some are seeking shelter in Fallujah. They’ve been without water and electricity for days.
Panicked by fears of an imminent attack by U.S. troops massed around the city, many of the 400,000 residents of Ramadi have poured out of the city hoping to escape the mounting crisis. At checkpoints leading to Baghdad, hundreds of families were turned away. What do they face if they remain in Ramadi?
If the 2004 Battle of Fallujah is a precursor for an attack against Ramadi, the U.S. military may cordon off an escape route for women and children, but forbid the men and older boys to leave. It’s also possible that the U.S. military will launch an offensive attack even if civilians remain trapped and have nowhere to flee and no means of getting food, medicine and water into the city.
The U.S. government claimed success because its forces hunted down and eliminated Abu Musab Zarqawi. Zarqawi must be killed, we were told, because he took hostages, brutalized them, and killed them. Now it appears that U.S. policy makers are holding a whole city hostage, brutalizing civilians and preparing to kill many of them. Assuredly, the frustration and rage felt by hundreds of thousands of people in Ramadi and beyond can create many more "Zarqawis."
I visited Ramadi in the summer of 2002, shortly after having been with Palestinian refugees in the Jenin camp, on the West Bank, while the Israeli Defense Force (IDF) used conventional military weapons to attack a civilian population living in the camp during April, 2002.
I showed people in Ramadi several enlarged photos which our small team of peace activists had taken in the Jenin camp. One picture showed young boys helping their fathers and uncles unearth corpses for burial while the camp was still under siege. Another was of Palestinians walking over heaps of rubble covering the foundations of what had once been their three story apartment buildings. Still another showed IDF graffiti on the walls of ransacked homes. The people with whom we met, in Ramadi, were deeply concerned and troubled. Why didn’t any substantial political, human rights or relief groups come to the aid of the refugees living in Jenin? Now, even as President Bush assures that he has looked in the eyes of the Iraqi government and won’t let Iraqis down, it seems that world bodies may look the other way as President Bush and the Pentagon plan a military attack against the civilian population of Ramadi.
In the towns that we visit, here in Central IL, I don’t think many people are thinking much about small town Iraq. Some people firmly believe the U.S. war in Iraq is necessary. "Gotta fight ‘em there or they’ll attack us here," a trucker told us, leaning out of his window. " I wish we would have just dropped a big bomb and done the job." But while we walk along the road, we realize that support for keeping U.S. troops in Iraq is weak. "Thumbs up" signs, friendly waves, and encouraging honks far outnumber the negative responses to our placards that say "End Iraq War" and "Rebuild the U.S. Rebuild Iraq"
Tomorrow, half of our walkers, on an "emergency" detour from the walk, will return to Springfield, IL, the state capitol, and risk arrest at Senator Richard Durbin’s office. We will read the names of people who have been killed in Iraq and urge Senator Durbin to denounce any U.S. plans for a military offensive against Ramadi.
We’ll also present a quote from President Lincoln, whose memory is revered here in a state that calls itself "The Land of Lincoln." During his one term in the House of Representatives, Lincoln denounced the war against Mexico as unnecessary and unconstitutional. He derided President Polk for deciding to begin a war which took from Mexico territory that now comprises the entire states of California, New Mexico, and Texas, plus parts of Arizona, Nevada and Utah. "God of heaven has forgotten to defend the weak and innocent," said Lincoln, in a speech before the House which is as appropriate now as it was then, "and permitted the strong band of murderers and demons from hell to kill men, women, and children, and lay waste and pillage the land of the just."
If President Bush were to deliver these words, perhaps he could look in the eyes of people in Ramadi and discuss security and freedom.
KATHY KELLY is the author of Other Lands Have Dreams and a co-coordinator of Voices for Creative Nonviolence, a Chicago based campaign to end U.S. military and economic war against Iraq, www.vcnv.org She can be reached at: Kathy@vcnv.org