As a Tadpole is to Frog, so a Boy May be to Man

By Marion Stuenkel

Before the damaged Red Cross headquarters in Baghdad is the crater left from the explosion of the car bomb. Standing with one’s back to the Red Cross building and facing the crater one sees the house to the left, all awry, where a severed head was found on the roof, where smeared stains on the wall are said to be blood. The crater is filled with water. Water mains broke with the blast and rains have come and gone. It is ugly water, a chemical looking green and blue. When a dead broken branch is poked in and pulled out the water level seems about 2 feet deep. Broken rocks, pavement and some trash (inevitable plastic) are jumbled around the rough edges. Though not exactly a circle and not much bigger than the body of a car it is not a scar but an open purulent looking wound in the hot sun. This appears a forlorn poisoned oasis in a weary neighborhood in Baghdad.

“There are frogs in that,” Sattar, our translator, tells me. I think, no, how can there be life in such desolation? “Yes, its true,” he says. We stand staring at the pond, sun pouring over us, reflecting upon life and death.

Sattar breaks the silence with a quote, “Small boys kill frogs for fun, but the frogs die seriously.” This applies to Iraq under occupation. I see tadpoles, at that moment, swimming purposely through the deathly still water in the crater. I look up to Sattar. He gives me a small gentle smile. He says, “I told you.” A short discussion ensues about what is the difference between polliwogs and tadpoles. I declare in the end both words mean the same stage of the creature. Then we lapse into more silence. It is like we are having a memorial service both for the Red Cross bombing dead and the high hopes for freedom the Iraqis I met had last April had.These hopes are now dashed by the occupation.

Sattar breaks the silence again by telling me an anecdote from the experience of an acquaintance of his who was in the Iraqi Special Forces. The Special Forces are trained to live off the land so one day they were to catch a frog and eat it immediately. The man caught the frog, brought his hand up to his mouth to take a bite and the frog looked at him. An officer nearby shouted at him to eat it. So the soldier bit off the head, swallowed it and threw the rest away. Sattar stands stoically beside me as I visualize that scene. A frog croaks from the crater. Sattar looks at me with a sad smile. “I told you,” he says.

The day after I, with four others, go to the Iraqi Assistance Center in the Baghdad Convention Center to book a flight on Royal Jordanian Airlines. We can no longer take the bus to Amman, as planned, because of U.S. action in Falluja. The road to Jordan has become increasingly unsafe. The airplane-ticketing booth is empty. While waiting for information regarding where to go to get ticketed we meet a career military man in the Coalition Forces. He asks us why we are in Iraq. We tell him we are members of a Christian Peacemaker Delegation. His response is to say, “This is a ridiculous war!” He goes on in like vein for a few minutes then says, “But I am a soldier, I do what I am commanded.” I picture him biting off the head of a frog. I was about to ask him if as a small boy he had ever killed frogs for fun and if he knew frogs died seriously. But he interrupted my thoughts by saying, “But don’t quote me.”


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Reflections on My Algeria

By A.H.

More than seven years elapsed since the army shot the civilian demonstrators on a main plaza in Algiers. The shooting took place on the ground of “Shahat Echouhada”, the place with the symbolic name “The yard of the martyrs”.

When I left Algeria, the violent conflict was more than two years old. While the official count of the victims was around 10,000, independent sources estimate the death toll at 40,000 to 50,000. Despite this dark picture, I never lost hope in a future peaceful end. Therefore, I closely followed the news until I could no longer bear it without the risk of harming my mental and emotional sanity.

I left the country with my head full of terrible images we unfortunately became accustomed to in our daily life. Whether it was soldiers hunting a student on campus, the shooting of a woman in the opposite apartment building, the neighbor police officer killed in front of his house, another one assassinated at the bus stop, or the bombing of a campus facility, the list is so long. To this day all these images and many others are haunting my mind. The terrible reality is that these images became so familiar that people don't mention them anymore. They instead talk about the slaughtering of whole families in their homes and other atrocities.

Despite all these experiences, the permanent feeling of insecurity, the arrest and deportation of colleagues, acquaintances and friends, or the assassination of other co-workers, I used to stick to my daily routine, and avoided disturbing my work or my family life. When I look back to those days, I recall the terrible conditions I was living in yet my pain is infinitely greater now than it was when I lived there.

A couple years ago, I simply decided to ease my pain by eliminating the flow of the traumatic information I was accustomed to absorbing. I simply cannot bear it anymore.

At my last count of the people I knew well, either in the work place, in my neighborhood, or as close friends, I counted 24 killed or disappeared. None were police or soldiers, neither were they involved in any violent action. They are simply teachers, professors, medical doctors, or other professionals who were either deported or simply assassinated because of a real or assumed political opinion they possessed. They are teachers who dedicated their lives to their students and their families. They are medical doctors striving to save other lives. They are lawyers and civil servants enforcing a law that is no more respected by those who put it into existence. For my own sanity, I stopped counting at that time. I also discontinued reading about the Algerian conflict for the same reason.

Today the picture seems completely blurred. The depiction of the problem by the mainstream media turned into a simple reproduction of the official explanation. It alleges that the Algerian government is facing a fundamentalist threat, therefore, it deserves to be helped in that respect. Those who are unfortunate enough to bear the fundamentalist label are dehumanized. Whether it is on purpose or because of ignorance of the facts, this claim does not represent the reality of the problem.

Algeria was brought into a deep economic crisis under the effect of international changes, and because the governing class was corrupt and incompetent. The government transformed this economic crisis into a deadly civil war by making inappropriate political choices at crucial moments. The victims then are held responsible for the failure of a system they didn’t choose. The majority of the Algerian people are therefore twice punished. They are enduring the hardship of the economic crisis on one hand and the oppression of their government on the other hand. The Algerian people are subject to systematic killings that have taken away the lives of tens of thousands of people. In addition to this a wide range of persecution includes the deportation of other tens of thousands to the infamous camps of the desert.

I understand the legitimate concern of people who want to know, and especially hold in high esteem the nobility of purpose of those who want to know in order to help. The Habiba Chaouch Foundation belongs to this second category. I read in the Habiba newsletter that the purpose of this independent, non-profit organization is to further international understanding between Americans and Arabs. I fully support that purpose. One way to work toward this goal is simply to educate people regarding our reality. This dissipates, as much as possible, the prejudices that are damaging the image of the Arabs in the United States.

The Algerian people have no illusion about their fate. They certainly do not expect any miraculous solution from outside the country. That is why they have struggled to death for a genuine democracy that would allow all Algerians to participate fully in the political process without any tutelage, or exclusion of any type. The Algerian people have paid an expensive price for that, but they are standing and suffering with dignity.

A.H. remains in contact with family in Algeria.


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Stopping for Melons on the Side of the Road

By George Capaccio

“Shuf!” (“Look!”) the minister next to me said. Gazing out the rear window, I looked. “The word means more than look,” he said. “Behold!” The sun was setting. It hovered above the desert like an immense mirage of fire and heat—eternal glory manifest, the original blast from which all things sprang.

It had been a long drive from Basra, Iraq. In the afternoon we stopped in the ancient city of Ur to visit the reputed birthplace of Abraham, father of three religions. On the walk to the crumbling ruins, I felt like clay baking in a kiln, so hot was the sun. Thousands of pottery shards, millennia old, slept in peace on the ground. At the foot of the Zuggernaut, after our walk, we guzzled cold sweet water from north Iraq, then climbed back into the car.

Near dusk we saw a man selling melons. Mike, coordinator of the trip, had the driver stop. All of us were hungry and dry after a full day on the road. Baghdad was still an hour away. The melons looked so tempting. The man selling them touched his heart and smiled as he welcomed us. Other customers stood around sampling slices and tossing the rinds in a pit. Watermelons, cantaloupes, honey dews, freshly picked, brimming with juice and fragrance—the keeper of the stand thumped one after another until he found the ripest, then, with a few deft flicks of his knife, cut us each a dripping wedge. “Eat as much as you like,” he said. “When you have found what pleases you, we will talk about price. But for now, taste and enjoy. God’s bounty has neither beginning nor end. The fruit you see here is nothing compared to what you will find in Paradise.”

With the first bite into a succulent slice of watermelon, I thought I had truly found Paradise. God was here in the guise of this thin, sinewy seller of melons. He only wanted us to rejoice and savor the goodness and sweetness of life. I did so with great abandon and gratitude. Not for the fruit alone but for the spirit in which it was bestowed. For the delight that streamed from the fruit seller’s face as he shared his wealth and made no fuss about our paying up. He knew he had made a sale. Once tasted, the fruit of Paradise is impossible to resist.

In the kingdom of palms and peace, I forgot what I had seen that morning in a hospital in the south: children with fused fingers and cleft palates. With protruding brains or no brains at all. With twisted spines and enormous heads. With missing or horribly shortened limbs. I forgot how grotesque they seemed to me. I forgot how I tried but failed to see them as children of God in whom there are secret springs of wholeness and beauty.

I forgot the pain in the hospital director’s eyes as he told us how he and his staff had never seen such things before 1990. I forgot how the chief resident shrugged his shoulders and shook his head and said, looking at each one of us. “Here in the south we have more birth abnormalities than in any other part of Iraq. The only reasonable explanation we can find is your country’s use of radioactive weapons. Basra was irradiated. It remains so. More and more children are born this way. What can we do?”

With each slice of melon, I went on forgetting. I forgot the young girl with leukemia: how I stood by the side of her bed and held her hand and, having nothing else to give, offered her a plastic toy. I forgot how her grandmother, all in black and wrinkled to the bone, reached out her hand to me. I gave the last toy I had, a green brontosaurus. She smiled and kissed my hand as if I had given her a rare jewel—as if I had just banished the disease consuming her grandchild. I forgot the waves of nausea that washed over me as I walked through the cancer ward knowing none of these children would ever go home again. I forgot that in my own country 70 percent of children with leukemia recover, that in Iraq remission is down from 50 percent to zero.

It was time to go. Mike insisted on paying for the melons we bought that night. I picked out two fat ones for the people I was staying with. They were expecting me for dinner. I was already late. We piled into the car. The sun was slipping out of view in a final wave of glory. I turned to Peter, the Arab-American minister from Kentucky. “Shuf!” I said. “Behold the sun, mother of all melons!” He smiled. The sky lost its last light. All that I had forgotten came back.

Capaccio has been to Iraq several times, most recently with Middle East Council of Churches.


Libyan “Man-Made River” Threatened

Wisdom Fund- As part of the celebrations marking the 27th anniversary of Libya's September 1, 1969 Revolution, Colonel Mu’ammar al-Qadhafi inaugurated the second stage of the Great Man-Made River project. In April, 1996 the U.S. threatened to attack the project with nuclear weapons.

Labeled by the international press as the 8th Wonder of The World, the project launched in 1984 and built with the help of Korean firms includes 4000 km of pipelines, and two aqueducts of 1000 km. When completed it will bring five million cubic meters per day of water from desert aquifers to Libya's coastal cities. It will eventually increase the size of Libya's arable land by over 70 percent. The total cost of the huge project is expected to exceed $25 billion.

Because the “Jabal Nefussa” mountainous formation blocks the flow of water from the aquifers to the coast, it was necessary to drill a tunnel through the mountains and to install a pumping station at Tarhunah. According to the Washington Post this pumping station was described, as a chemical plant at a Defense Department briefing on April 23, 1996 where a senior defense official stated that the United States would not exclude the use of nuclear weapons to destroy it. This plant, said the official, “is not in the interest of peace, not in the interest of stability, and not in the interest of world order.” U.S. Secretary of Defense William Perry confirmed that the use of nuclear weapons to destroy this “chemical weapons factory” was not excluded.

Presidents Alpha Omar Konare of Mali, Jerry Rawlings of Ghana, Lansana Conte of Guinea and Ibrahim Mainasara Bare of Niger joined Col. Mu’ammar al-Qadhafi to simultaneously push buttons which caused a barrier to open allowing the chemical compound H2O (aka water) to gush forth to fill the Garabouli dam, 60 km east of Tripoli, and to begin supplying water for drinking and irrigation to Libya's northwestern coastal plains.

Some intelligence services believe, however, that a chemical weapons factory does exist at Tarhunah. If so, they should present their evidence to the relevant international organization for appropriate action. The Great Man-Made River project should not be threatened with nuclear strikes.

© Reprinted with permission from The Wisdom Fund website:http://www.twf.org


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The Bethlehem I Knew: An Advent Reflection

By Rita McGaughey

I had many opportunities to visit Bethlehem during the years I made my home in the Galilee region of Israel. The village of Rama in the Upper Galilee was my home while serving as a retired volunteer from 1989-95.

An early trip—it was Christmas Eve—was especially illuminating. Leaving my home in an Arab village not far from Nazareth, I found it easy to imagine a similar journey taken by Mary and Joseph, who likely traveled along this Jordan Valley route, past Jericho and around Jerusalem to reach Bethlehem.

It was also easy to picture the Roman soldiers along the way as I and my Palestinian colleagues were stopped at the frequent military (always called “security”) check points throughout the West Bank. As a rule these young, gun-slung soldiers displayed a grim disbelief at finding an American who sided with Palestinians, but on the trip they waved me through with beaming smiles.

That was the first signal that our Christmas Eve drive to Bethlehem would be totally different from ordinary trips across the Green Line into the occupied territories. Approaching Bethlehem I discovered television cameras set up to report the extra security for “protecting” Christmas tourists. There were not TV cameras, however, at the spot where Christian Palestinians underwent body searches before entering their own churches.

I had arrived in Israel earlier that year to volunteer with a small private health organization serving the Arab minority within the “Green Line” of Israel.

For nearly six years I lived in what has been home for centuries for Palestinians who today make up Israel's 18 percent Arab minority. It is a humbling experience to live among people made powerless by political forces. It is also an enlightening one. For one thing, it goes a long way to dispel colonial expectations that people ought to be grateful for what they never requested.

Witnessing the patience, the pride and the grace of life in a traditional Arab village was a revelation. I found the word “terrorist” totally inappropriate, as was “democracy” to describe the controlling powers.

At first I found it mildly peaceful in Israel, seduced by the indifference that comes with being ignored by authorities. Gradually I came to see the inhumanity behind such slights. A former hostage in Lebanon described it thus: “We were angry,” he writes, “not because we were hungry but because we were forgotten.” Think of Palestinians in the 1950s when the world came to believe Israel was “a land without people for a people without land.”

Even today, few media reports give adequate information for any real understanding of this area’s complexities. For example, most reports on the violence erupting after the opening of the tunnel next to the Haram al-Sharif Mosque in Jerusalem fell short of comprehending its implication for Israel's claim to exclusive control of Jerusalem.

The tunnel opening prompted “Churches for Middle East Peace” to place a full-page ad in the New York Times entitled “Christians Call for a Shared Jerusalem.” The signatories to the ad urged the U.S. government to call upon negotiators to move beyond exclusivist claims and create a Jerusalem that is “a sign of peace and a symbol of reconciliation for all humankind.”

Few remember an early United Nations resolution that declared the Israeli law concerning Jerusalem “null and void.” The U.N. invited countries with embassies in Jerusalem to move them elsewhere. When the Vatican entered into diplomatic relations with the state of Israel (December 1993), it opened its nunciature (embassy) in Tel Aviv. Subsequently, it has consistently drawn attention to the need for an international commitment to the protection of the holy city's identity.

The Vatican—along with Europe's political leaders—refused to participate in ceremonies to mark “Jerusalem 3000,” calling it a political statement that “marches in lockstep with other Israeli efforts to assert sovereignty, de-Christianize the city and alienate Jerusalem from its Palestinian city and its pluralistic religious heritage.”

As recently as August of 1996, the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue and the Vatican's Commission for Religious Relations joined with representatives for the Jewish faith, the World Council of Churches and the Lutheran World Federation to call attention to the extent to which indiscriminate closure of Jerusalem endangers the prospects for peace. “We are particularly pained,” their statement stated, “when as a result of the closure people are denied access to their holy sites and places of worship and their places of employment, education and health care.”

Another statement opposing Israeli plans for a “Greater Jerusalem” cites the United States for “failing to recognize and support Palestinian rights and interests in Jerusalem.” Signatures include the bishop and primate of the Episcopal Church, a bishop in the Evangelical Lutheran Churches of American, the president of the National Conference of Catholic Bishops and the president of Roman Catholic Conference of Major Superiors of Men's Institutes.

This list is impressive. But wait. When the Israeli prime minister addressed the U.S. Congress and was roundly applauded for declaring Jerusalem his undivided capital, not one religious leader questioned his declaration. Will Bethlehem be accorded the same fate?

The Bethlehem I knew is already vastly changed as a result of cruel confiscation of Palestinian land. The motive for taking these lands is filled with irony. Israel's annexation of a new tourist infrastructure with nearby Jewish (illegal) settlements is destined to deny Arab Bethlehem its vital tourist income.

“Bethlehem 2000” is now under way, with new highways being constructed for easy transport of tourists from the holy sites to the new hotels and restaurants planned for the nearby settlements. Depriving Palestinian Bethlehem of this revenue is a sure way to bring about its economic collapse.

A similar project called “Nazareth 2000” has identical aims, with tourist buses stopping only for brief visits to that city's holy sites. Hotel and other accommodations are arranged at nearby Tiberius where Caesar's Palace competes with other Western-type hostelries for the patronage of Christian tourists.

The real impact of these changes on the Middle East peace process goes far beyond tourism. An inability to describe the human dimensions behind these moves makes me almost sympathetic to those media reporters who attempt to convey some sense of the hardships imposed on the victims who fall prey to these manipulative political powers.

Unknowingly, tourists too are manipulated into imposing “West is Best” concepts. I can see it now: “Visit Bethlehem and stay at Days Inn.” Sorry. My preference will continue to be those small guest houses within close range of the smells and sounds of souks—and yes, even the tortuous traffic confusions.

After all, we're talking about Bethlehem, Palestine—not Pennsylvania.

Rita McGaughey's reflections shared in this article were first printed in the Times Review, LaCrosse, Wisconsin where she resides.


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