Women in Bastan Village, Kurdistan

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Thoughts and Reflections for the New Year—Iraq 123110

How do I start gathering my thoughts about this year of 2010? First, I have to say that it has been a very productive one. A year full of changes, challenges, and decisions made, of letting go of some things and people and embracing others, losing but mainly gaining. A lot of traveling, and when I say a lot, is a LOTTTT! From NY to Cairo and back, and then back again….

In Cairo, holding the PR flag, full of puerotrican children's hands in solidarity for the children in GAZA, December, 2009. 
I started and ended my year in the Middle East. Last year, on New Year’s Eve, I was in Cairo, in my first international activism mission. I took part on the Gaza Freedom March, an international delegation that gathered around 1,400 people in Cairo, whose purpose was to challenge the siege of Gaza. It was the first anniversary of Operation Cast Lead, and we wanted to get the world’s attention on the approximately 1,400 people killed by this unjust Israeli attack on civilian population. Although most of us didn’t make it into Gaza, we stayed in Cairo for a week, annoying the Egyptian government, also complicit of the siege, for enforcing Israeli policies and for not letting us get into Gaza. We did actions and demonstrations every day; from climbing the pyramids and hanging the Palestinian flag, to the biggest international gathering on Dec 31st near the Egyptian Museum.

I remember that, when everyone was getting ready for the New Year to come, we were getting ready to make our voices heard. More than 500 people from 42 countries gathered and came out to the street in front of the Egyptian Museum paralyzing the traffic. Immediately, we were confronted by the Egyptian riot and undercover police, that had been all week following us. They started to kick people and to try to break the demonstration.

During the demonstration on December 31st, 2009, Cairo, Egypt. Photo by Johanna L. Rivera.
The sense of unity that I experienced was incredible. Everybody was holding each other, while being beaten or kicked, or women being pulled by their hair. I remember a guy that held me and hugged me after I was shocked and crying because of my confrontation with the police (I was not beaten, but still was PTSD). This guy whom I didn’t know was holding me and I experienced a sense of peace and comfort. The people's bonding and unity was amazing. It was the same feeling I experienced last November, on one of Beit Ommar's demonstration when being teargassed by the IDF. The feeling that no one can break the unity and strength that comes from standing for justice and truth. It almost feels that your spirit rises and you are so powerful and not afraid of what can happen.

I imagine that was the same feeling that activists from the Freedom Flotilla felt when their boats were illegally taken by the Israeli military (May 2010). That same spirit that makes Palestinians go on every week in Beit Ommar, Bil’in, Al Walaja and many other villages fighting in non violent ways. I guess among all my frustration and sometimes helplessness, I feel there is some hope. Hope that comes from the past months living this journey deep into the struggle. Knowing that there is evil, sure, but that there is more good. Sitting at a table around Israeli and Palestinian activists after a demo, knowing that they are fighting with the only weapons they have; their bodies and spirits and that there is no man-made weapon that can overpower truth. The Israeli military, with their US-made weapons can kill many, but they will never kill the spirit of truth; and the truth is that we are all human beings, made equal and that we don't own the land; the land owns us. And I will add that my hope, even when sometimes is mixed with tears and frustration is the only thing I can take with me on this journey, is the only thing that keeps me standing in the middle of the struggle.

The hope I got from the people at the Tent of Nations, fighting everyday against the illegal occupation of their land. They have been successful for the past 10 years from preventing the Israelis of taking over their land. Hope from my girls from Bethlehem, because in their eyes and smiles I see that we have to keep the cry for justice, so they, one day will be free to see the ocean. The hope from the bedouine people of El Arakib, rebuilding their village again and again after its 9th consecutive demolition. The people in Beit Ommar, Issawiya, that confront the soldiers every day, and stand against the occupation. The women from KAYAN working from within to empower other women to gain more social and political participation and to fight Israel's racism. The hope from ALL the people I met that work everyday to fight injustice and inequality.

In the weekly demo in Beit Ommar against the illegal appropriation of land from the farmers

But still, many questions remain. First, I want to understand what is behind all this disproportionate violence. How is it that a human being can react in such a way as to use such disproportionate violence against an unarmed civilian, to purposely KILL. Today, there were news report of a Palestinian killed at a checkpoint in Nablus, because the Palestinian attacked the soldier with a bottle. How does that work? I hit you with a bottle and you kill me, when you are the one oppressing me and taking away all my freedoms and rights on the first place. I have been on the checkpoint when there have been excessive delays of more than one hour of just waiting and one soldier on top of us, on the roof with a gun, just watching, indifferent, while smoking a cigarette how the Palestinians get anxious.

Entrance of BETHLEHEM checkpoint

Second, I want to understand what is behind these terrorist attacks here in Iraq (the main one in October 31st) , on the Christian community. How come, in the name of religion, you can justify bombing a church, although what is said here is that what caused the bombing was that the government intervened in an inappropriate way by failing to negotiate with the terrorists but went inside the church, causing the attack to be worse. I guess this mistake in strategy is political too. I don’t know about you, but it makes me ANGRY, in a different way than the Palestinian-Israeli issue makes me angry. I don’t know why or how people become so brainwashed to do such things but I know how it feels (here in Iraq) to be afraid in the very place you are supposed to find peace and lift your spirit.

I can only hope that peace will come, one person at a time, one smile at a time. I know I cannot change the way or the politics of these conflicts. If I had a magic stick and could make ONE wish come true for next year, it would be to make the first commandment true. LOVE YOUR NEXT AS YOURSELF! At least I think that would be a good start.

Children playing in Khabat village 20 km out of Erbil--Iraq their eyes and smiles help me keep on this struggle. Photo by Johanna L. Rivera

Children from Beit Ommar village in Palestine, for them I keep my hope. Photo by Johanna L. Rivera

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