Saturday, August 12, 2006

Peace Activists Bear Witness to War in Beirut

The peace movement's foremost group United for Peace and Justice (UFPJ) and its member groups took up a collection and placed an ad in an Iraqi newspaper, asking PM al-Maliki to meet with them. When the ad resulted in an invitation from five Iraqi Parliamentarians, a delegation of peace-activists went to the Middle East in an historic meeting in Jordan. Some of the group's members then continued on to Lebanon. UFPJ National Co-Chair Judith LeBlanc sent her report from Beirut:

UFPJ National Co-Chair Judith LeBlanc sent her report from Beirut:

Dear friends,

Recently, we reached out to you for help in placing an ad in an Iraqi newspaper, asking Prime Minister al-Maliki to meet with a delegation from the US peace movement. Thanks to your generous support, that ad ran in Assabah Al-Jadid on July 25, and resulted in an invitation from five Iraqi Parliamentarians for a meeting in Jordan.

Again with your critical support, our delegation was able to travel to Jordan for this historic meeting, and some of its members -- UFPJ National Co-Chair Judith LeBlanc, Medea Benjamin and Gael Murphy of UFPJ member group CODEPINK, and peace activist and author Diane Wilson -- have now continued on to Lebanon.

We will post a full report on the Jordan meeting next week, but right now we wanted to share with you this first-hand report that Judith LeBlanc just emailed to us from Beirut:

"On day 29 of the war, Beirut is a blend of many realities. The facts are that 1,000 have died, and over 3,000 have been injured in Lebanon. Most are children. Whole villages and sections of cities have been evacuated, and life continues. Every night there are new bombings of apartment buildings in Beirut and homes in southern Lebanon. Tyre has been blockaded and every major highway has been bombed. The United Nations says their humanitarian aid programs are paralyzed now. The spiral of continued war and failed diplomatic initiatives leaves the Lebanese government unable to make a full accounting of the extent of the damage to the infrastructure or the impact on the economy.

Some Lebanese feel that the world has abandoned them. Many believe that Lebanon will survive as it has in the wars of the past. Time is not standing still. With every day the situation becomes more dire. Families are trying to survive together and, when possible, they have sent their relatives to Syria or other countries even further away. One man who waited in line behind me to use the pay phone told me he sent his wife and children to another country. He stayed behind because his 90-year-old mother refused to leave her apartment. There are families crowded into apartments waiting for the war to end. The families in the south of Lebanon sit for another day in the parks under tarps, while others sit in public schools....

Not too far offshore oil tankers are waiting behind the Israeli Naval blockade, while the hospitals report that they only have two days of fuel left. The tankers won't move without written permission from the Israelis....

In the Hamra neighborhood where Muslim, Christian and Druze live together, small shops stay open while periodic power outages compel the use of small generators. It is less than 2 miles away from the southern neighborhoods bombed in the last few days. Haret Hraik, a neighborhood in southern Beirut, has been bombed for three nights in a row. Almost all the small shops are closed except for an occasional tire repair shop. We went to photograph the damage. When we got out of the car, there were many press photographers who asked where we were from. We went on to another block where a group of men were watching the bulldozing of buildings bombed two nights ago. They asked where we were from, of course, and then they offered us chocolates!

We talked of the war and its impact. At one point, a man came up and asked what media we represented. He was from Hezbollah. They have set up guards and street patrols. He told us where to go to register to get an inside tour. The second time we were stopped, a man on a scooter pulled the car over. He told us not to photograph at all and gave us the address to register for permission.

Amidst the rubble of a bombed-out building, I spoke with a man named Idriss. We were watching the bulldozing of a building that had been bombed two nights before. He had lived in New York City before September 11, 2001. When he was deported from the U.S., the immigration officials told him they were sorry, but because he is Arab and Muslim he would have to leave. We chatted about New York City and he asked where I lived. When I told him that I can see Yankee Stadium from my bathroom window, he wanted me to go see his good friend Sami at his corner store at 161 Street in the Bronx. He spoke of the senselessness of the bombing, but also reminded me that the bombs were sold to Israel by the US. I took his picture and promised to go to see his friend.

Over the past three days, many have said that Hezbollah is not the issue now. It's the war. Some have said that Bush and the Israelis began this war to split the people along religious lines. More than one person said they believed this war was planned long ago. Some also believed the bombing was to force the people to decide to be for or against Hezbollah.

At noon time, as we photographed the clean-up of one bombed out neighborhood, we were told by the press that another Israeli air raid had happened.

We thought we saw leaflets falling outside our window. Now they are reporting on CNN that leaflets are being dropped in central Beirut. That has been the practice before a bombing. CNN is reporting that the Israeli government has decided to bomb closer to the center of the city.

There are many realities that are going on here. There is hope and there is fear. There is also a struggle to bring people together and lay the basis for a better future even while the end of this war is not in sight."

As this report makes clear, it is more important than ever that the antiwar movement stands up and speaks out. The Iraq war hasn't brought peace or security to the people of Iraq or the U.S. Bombing civilian populations has not and will not bring greater peace or security to the people of Lebanon, Palestine, and Israel. We must demand an immediate, unconditional ceasefire and a just peace for the Middle East. Click here for more information and action ideas.

Yours, for peace and justice,

UFPJ National Staff

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