Here in Beirut, explosions rocked the city during one ten minute stretch in the afternoon and again this evening. Periodic distant thuds assured us that the approach toward a cease fire would be fiery, deadly.
Farah and I told our Irish friend, Michael Birmingham, that the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina should help all of us understand how it’s possible that profiteering and murderous forces would consider depopulating an area for mercenary gain. Michael is legend for being our most cynical companion, albeit our saint. “Come on,” he said, “don’t tell me you’re serious.”
Dan Berrigan’s line came to mind, “Serious, serious says my blood in the falling.”
Well. My blood isn’t falling. I’m in a safe section of Beirut, reading about the rockets exploding in northern Israel and the audible bombs slamming into neighborhoods just a taxi drive away from where I sit. Farah and Michael have returned for the 10:00 p.m. meeting with ordinary young Lebanese civilians, –architects, students, landscapers, marketing professionals, –who have courageously dedicated themselves toward building solidarity with devastated families who’ve survived the past viscious weeks of war. I stayed behind, reluctant to face a third lengthy meeting today, and instead offered to visit with Catholic sisters in East Beirut to ask if they could help us find ways to deliver relief into southern Lebanon.
Many people have theorized about why this war started and what are the ultimate goals. But there’s no doubt that ethnic cleansing has been enforced in southern Lebanon and in areas of Beirut where the Israeli Defense Forces dropped leaflets threatening people with death and destruction if they didn’t immediately leave their homes.
The most serious question persists: how to turn off this war?
Who wouldn’t place intense hope, however naive, in a cease fire holding?
But there’s more, much more, that should preoccupy U.S. people. U.S. taxpayers must acknowledge their contribution toward Israel’s disproportionate and overwhelming capacity to afflict terror and horror on southern Lebanon and the suburbs of Beirut. When reading the statistics about carnage, contamination, displacement, –the unbearable numbers of wounded, the numbers maimed, the numbers buried, the numbers of orphans and widows and parents holding corpses of their children, — statistics about Israel’s losses and Lebanon’s losses, –when we read these statistics we must remember that since the Bush administration, the U.S. has spent $9.4 billion helping Israel build its arsenal and military. The U.S. sent 600 pound bunker busters to Israel after the war began–and we’re almost certain those bunker busters blasted underground in the Dahiya neighborhood today. The U.S. deliberately stalled prospects for a cease fire.
If equipping an area with weapons, including nuclear weapons, was a reliable way to ensure security, Israel and Palestine would be paradise by now. Has the U.S. policy toward Israel safeguarded homes and towns in northern Israel in this sorry saga of spiraling hatred?
Shouldn’t we all shudder and groan, wondering what weapons will be used next as U.S. leaders accommodate themselves to ongoing, hideous warfare?
We watch many Lebanese families, displaced and disoriented, walking streets of downtown Beirut with unimaginable dignity, –the women covered, mothers and children walking hand in hand. As these people, forced to flee the simplicity of village life, walk along streets bursting with the modern fast life, I hope that their steps will slow all of us down. I hope that we can, just for moments, imagine walking hand in hand with them while thinking hard about how to turn off this war. The ancient command, envisioned in the Exodus narrative, “Let my people go,” might mark all of our steps. We might displace ourselves from our absurdly “protected” comfort zones. We might long for leaders who will galvanize displaced people to free themselves from the reckless warmongers in our world who sacrifice children and stain our earth with their blood.
How desperately we need trustworthy advocates of unarmed conflict resolution, dare I say nonviolence, who can lead us, the willing and unwilling “displaced,” to a place wherein we reclaim our collective capacity to share resources, live simply, and put an end to war.
Tomorrow we’ll buy a small quantity of meds, a la Voices stops in Amman, and try to bring them as close as we can to children in need. I hope we can get children’s antibiotics. We want very much to accompany Lebanese civilians in whatever measures they wish for unarmed civil resistance. Likewise we wish we could comfort children in a Haifa bomb shelter. And on a smaller note, I hope to reach Pax Christi International’s delegate here in Beirut.
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