Signs of the Times: Spring 2007 Vol. XVII, No. 1

Contents

Colombia

Iraq

Palestine

Arizona

Philippines

  • Occupation Project
  • Marian Franz
  • Peacemaker Congress

Letters

Calendar


Colombia: “Our Womb Hurts”

by Sandra Rincón

On February 13, 2007 in the city of Barrancabermeja, 20-year-old Katherine González Torres disappeared. Her family and friends are desperate. Her sister Sandra is inconsolable.


The community fears that Katherine was abducted because of Sandra’s work on the leadership team of the Popular Women’s Organization (OFP) – a group known for tirelessly speaking out against the violence that shreds their neighborhoods and country.


The day after Katherine’s disappearance, more than 150 people from churches, human rights groups and social organizations, including CPTers, gathered on the streets of Barrancabermeja (Barranca) for a prayer vigil. Many of the women wore black as a sign of grief and pain.


Women from the OFP

“Today our womb hurts,” repeated OFP leaders throughout the evening vigil. “As women, we give life. But today they are taking life away from us. Today our womb hurts because one of our daughters is not here with us. The mother, who dedicated twenty years to raise this seed [her daughter] is missing her. Those who took her were also born of a woman’s womb.”


Participants prayed for an end to the violence and reminded each other that all are daughters and sons of the same Spirit. At times, they went into the middle of a busy Barranca street and stopped traffic.


“We do not support the guerrillas or the paramilitaries! We do not give birth and raise our sons and daughters for war! We are against the war!” declared the OFP leaders.


At one point a truck full of armed soldiers tried to drive through their lines, but the chanting, praying bodies of determined women and men prevented the truck from passing.


The vigil culminated in a symbolic search for Katherine as a caravan with its loud speakers wound through the streets of Barranca passing several sites where illegal armed groups commit acts of violence with impunity.


Near the city’s port the voice of OFP leader Yolanda Becerra rang out. “The mayor says that Barranca is an oasis of peace. What peace? The authorities must cease their complicity with the paramilitaries. They must return Katherine to her family alive and unharmed.”


The pain in the womb felt by the women of OFP is the same pain felt by so many families in the Magdalena Medio region, in all of Colombia and around the world because too many sons and daughters have disappeared.

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Colombia: Eradicating Coca Civilians

by Michele Braley & Julián Gutiérrez

Mr. Didier raises plantains on his small farm. Once a month he travels three hours to town to sell his crop. After subtracting the cost of supplies and transportation, he earns about $95* each month to meet the needs of his wife and six children.


Mr. Argemiro grows corn. Every six months he takes is harvest to sell in town. With a little luck, he will bring home a total of $475 for his family of seven to survive for the next six months.


Mr. Génaro cultivates beans. Every six months he hopes to sell about forty bushels and make $500 which will have to last until the next harvest. He supports his wife, eight children and two grandchildren.


Corn damaged by fumigation

These are just some of the subsistence farmers CPTers met in the community of Corcovado in the southern part of the province of Bolívar. Some farmers in the area also cultivate coca (the plant from which cocaine is made). None of them cultivates more than a hectare (2½ acres).


Why do small farmers cultivate illegal coca in addition to food crops in Southern Bolívar? With one hectare of coca, a farmer can make $500 every three months after subtracting costs for supplies, transportation and “taxes” to the armed forces, paramilitaries and guerrillas. Unlike legal produce, coca is the only crop that will give them a margin of income sufficient to meet their basic needs.


Furthermore, according to farmers, if they try to stop growing coca, the armed groups will increase their “taxes” to coerce them into continuing coca cultivation. Many in the community do not support the growing of coca, but they understand the dilemma of their neighbors.


Twice a year, the Colombian government arrives in the region – not to fix the road, or build a high school, or supply the health center with much needed medical equipment, but to fumigate the coca. During their visit to Corcovado, CPTers witnessed and documented the impact of these efforts to eradicate coca through aerial fumigation.


Farmers complained that the fumigations rarely fall on their targets. Instead, winds blow the chemical over the fields of yucca, cacao, plantain, corn and beans, ruining months of work and an already fragile economy. They showed CPTers food crops damaged by aerial spraying next to small fields of unfumigated coca. They spoke of the foul odor that accompanies the fumigation and of the many people who have become ill with headaches, fevers and stomach complaints.


Some of the fumigation pilots, speaking informally with CPTers at a swimming pool in Barrancabermeja (where the team is based), said they know where to spray because coca plants are low to the ground and light green, easily recognizable among the mostly dark green vegetation. Yet, team members saw palm trees more than twenty feet tall that had been sprayed while nearby coca plants remained unharmed. “I wish the pilots were more intelligent,” remarked one farmer.


Aerial fumigation is part of the $446 million “Plan Colombia” aid package the U.S. provides to Colombia. Congress must approve the aid each year. In 2006 U.S. Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice said, “I hereby determine and certify that: (1) the herbicide mixture used for fumigation of illicit crops in Colombia is being used in accordance with EPA label requirements; (2) the herbicide does not pose unreasonable risks or adverse effects to humans or the environment; (3) that complaints of harm to health or licit crops are evaluated and fair compensation is being paid; and (4) that programs are being implemented in consultation with local communities, to provide alternative sources of income for small-acreage growers whose illicit crops are targeted for fumigation.”


Farmers in Corcovado say they’ve never heard of a complaint process, much less received any compensation. One farmer remarked, “Fumigation isn’t the answer, economic development is the answer.” How long will this community wait for the “alternative sources of income” the U.S. government has promised every year since 2002 in the certification of aerial fumigation?

* figures in U.S. dollars

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Colombia: The Patriot Plan

by Nils Dybvig

“Plan Patriota” (the Patriot Plan) is part of the military component of Plan Colombia – the U.S. government-funded program for combating the drug trade and, unofficially, left-wing guerrilla groups.


CPTers visiting the department (province) of Nariño in the southwest corner of Colombia saw the Plan in full force. Nariño is small in population – 1.77 million people, but full of soldiers – one for every 127 residents.


Living in Colombia, one becomes accustomed to seeing soldiers carrying M-16 rifles in commercial districts, traveling the city streets by motorcycle or truck, and stationed at checkpoints along the roads. In Nariño however, the military presence feels overwhelming. Tanks and armored personnel carriers line the highways and fill city streets with soldiers. At military checkpoints, soldiers demand ID, pat people down and search vehicles more than once.


The real impact of the militarization, however, is felt in the relatively unspoiled mountainous rainforest that still covers much of Nariño. These mountains provide sustenance for hundreds of small indigenous, afro-Colombian and campesino communities that existed long before any state presence in the area. Roads and government services do not reach them, and until recently, they lived quiet lives. Although guerrilla groups arrived in these remote parts of Nariño a few years ago, little conflict resulted.


The influx of military personnel and equipment have brought armed assaults on civilian communities as well as guerrilla encampments. In July, 92 members of an indigenous group, 31 of them children, fled their homes and took shelter in a school where they remained for two days without food or water. In another community, the Colombian Air Force bombed the school building.


Since July 2006, five forced displacements of civilian communities in Nariño rendered 4000 people homeless. Displaced persons are reluctant to return home even after a military incursion subsides. They fear that the guerrillas or the army may come back and accuse them of collaborating with the opposing group.


Although Plan Patriota seems to be more about propaganda than seriously defeating the guerrillas, Colombia’s President just approved “Plan Victoria,” the next phase of the military campaign. Meanwhile, the civilians in these mountains continue losing their homes, their livelihoods, and often their lives.

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Colombia: Action Alert

Despite worsening human rights abuses by the Colombian military, forced displacement of civilian communities, and inhumane, ineffective aerial spraying programs, Presidents Bush (U.S.) and Uribe (Colombia) recently proposed “Plan Colombia 2" – five more years of the same bad policy.


The plan would maintain similar levels of U.S. military aid through 2013: $446 million a year, which represents 76% of the total aid package for Colombia.
The U.S. Congress will vote on the foreign aid bill, which contains Plan Colombia 2, in the coming weeks. This new Congress has the opportunity to change the course of U.S. policy in Colombia.

Call members of Congress (202-224-3121). Urge them to:

  • Drastically reduce military aid to Colombia. The Colombian military has been implicated in numerous acts of human rights abuse and there is mounting evidence of military collusion with illegal paramilitaries.
  • Increase social aid to alleviate the growing humanitarian crisis in Colombia. U.S. aid should support the victims of the conflict (including more than 3 million internally displaced persons), judicial reform, and lasting peace, not more bloodshed.
  • Support alternative development for rural farmers, not fumigation. Invest in treatment programs at home to reduce the demand for drugs.
    Ask Congress to tell the chair of the Foreign Operations Subcommittee that aid priorities to Colombia should be significantly shifted. House – Nita Lowey (D-NY); Senate – Patrick Leahy (D-VT).

For more information contact the Latin America Working Group: www.lawg.org

 

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Colombia: Government Violates Accords

by Joel Klassen

CPTer Noah Dillard down in the gold mine

The last issue of Signs of the Times (Vol. XVI, No. 4) reported on a 45-day mobilization of miners protesting military incursions and killings in their communities and the threat of multinational corporations taking over their land. The miners returned home only after securing certain agreements from the government. Team members returned to the area in early December.

Members of CPT-Colombia, accompanying a human rights verification commission to the mining zone in Southern Bolívar, learned of numerous violations of the accords signed by the government and 1300 small-scale miners on October 30, 2006.


The commission itself did not comply with the accords since several government representatives who were supposed to comprise the commission – specifically the Attorney General’s office, investigative agencies, and the human rights office of the Vice President – did not participate citing lack of funding.


Regional representatives of the Human Rights Ombudsman (Defensoría) who did participate in the commission learned that members of the army battalion Nueva Granada had occupied houses in the village of San Pedro Frio and had threatened residents, calling them guerrillas. For days, the army occupied the house of a leader of the Federation of Agro-Miners of Southern Bolivar (FEDEAGROMISBOL), one of the main sponsors of the protest mobilization. The army remained in the village for three weeks, until November 21.


Part of the agreement simply reiterated International Humanitarian Law stipulating that all armed groups should maintain themselves at a distance from the civilian population.


In other parts of the region, commission members learned that paramilitaries had threatened various leaders of FEDEAGROMISBOL.


One Federation member reminded the commission about events in 1998 when a previous farmers and miners mobilization was followed by repressive actions. “What is happening now is the same as then,” he said. “The government is not only breaking their commitments, they are threatening us with death.”

Action for Corporate Accountability:

Canadian supporters of CPT can contact their Members of Parliament to ask that the “Final Report and Recommendations” from the Roundtables on Corporate Social Responsibility and the Canadian Extractive Sector in Developing Countries (in which CPT participated) be released immediately upon completion. Express concern about the continued presence of Canada’s Bema Corporation (a Canadian Pension Plan holding) in a zone where the Colombian Armed Forces are subjecting civilians, particularly small miners and their organizations, to human rights abuses.

 

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Colombia: SOA Watch Visits Barranca

by Nils Dibvig

[L-R] Linda Panetta, Pablo Ruiz, Lisa Sullivan, Fr. Roy Bourgeois, CPTers Pierre Shantz, CPTer Nils Dybvig

Since 1946, the School of the Americas (SOA), now called the Western Hemispheric Institute for Security Cooperation, has provided combat training to over 60,000 Latin American soldiers, including 10,000 from Colombia. All four commanders of the local military battalions around Barranca attended the SOA. Many of the school’s graduates have been implicated in massacres, torture, disappearances, and forced displacements in their home countries.


SOA Watch, the peace group coordinating the campaign to close the SOA, has begun visiting Latin American countries asking Presidents and Generals to stop sending soldiers there for training. So far, Venezuela, Argentina and Uruguay have agreed.


In January, CPTers in Barranca hosted a small delegation from SOA Watch. Together they accompanied community leaders at a meeting with Sergeant Ruiz, the commander of an army post in the town of San Francisco. Besides being a violation of International Humanitarian Law, the army’s presence in their midst makes residents a target for guerilla attacks. They also complained about possible links between soldiers stationed there and paramilitary groups.


SOA Watch delegates met with a number of social organizations including the Popular Women’s Organization (OFP) and the Farmer’s Association of the Cimitarra Valley (ACVC). After seeing their work, Father Roy Bourgeois, founder of SOA Watch commented, “What we have seen here has given us hope.”


CPTers serving the Colombia Team December 2006 - February 2007 were: Michele Braley (Minneapolis, MN), Robin Buyers (Toronto, ON), Suzanna Collerd (River Forest, IL), Noah Dillard (Freedom, ME), Jenny Dillon (Washington, DC), Nils Dybvig (Minneapolis, MN), Julián Guttiérez (Colombia), Erin Kindy (Tiskilwa, IL), Joel Klassen (Toronto, ON), Sandra Rincón (Colombia), Pierre Shantz (Colombia), Stewart Vriesinga (Lucknow, ON); Interns: Shirley Way (Stanley, NY). Delegation members January 17-30 were Doris Braley (New Brighton, MN), Daniel Gerber (Schaumburg, IL), Michael Loebach (London, ON), William Payne (Toronto, ON), and Kathleen Waltner-Toews (Kitchener, ON)

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Iraq: “Why Here?”

by Peggy Gish

"I tell you the truth, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains just a single grain; but if it dies, it bears much fruit." John 12:24

Remembering CPTer Tom Fox, killed in Iraq March 9, 2006 after more than 100 days in captivity.

I sat in the Asaish (Security Police) office in Suleimaniya where an official questioned me as part of his investigation of CPT’s presence in Iraqi Kurdistan. The extension of my residency visa and the official registration of our Iraq team as an NGO were pending. I knew that this man had power to approve or disapprove official status for our team.


He started with questions about my family, previous work, religion, political affiliations, and the purpose and funding of CPT. Then he asked, “You are Christian? What does your organization do?” I answered something like, “We work to reduce or prevent violence, and try to help individuals and groups find alternative solutions to violence in conflicts. It is because of our faith that we work for justice and peace.”


Then he looked at me very seriously and asked, “Can I ask you any kind of question? Why, when there is a lot of violence in your own country, do you come here to stop violence?” he asked. “Shouldn’t you just work on it there?”


“Yes, we do work on it there,” I answered. I gave him the example of a ready response group I am a part of at home that goes to be present with and help persons who feel threatened. Then I added, “Because my country has intervened militarily in Iraq in ways that have caused much harm and violence, I feel some responsibility to be with those suffering the consequences, report what is happening, and to work for peace here as well.”


“Please don’t misunderstand me,” he responded. “The Kurdish people appreciate the ways America had protected us from Saddam and the American families who have sent their sons and daughters here to help us, and many have died. But what do you think about the U.S. military mistreating so many people in Iraq?”
“Mistreating people is wrong no matter who does it,” I said. “I oppose the harm that the U.S. has done here. If I saw a U.S. soldier abusing a person on the street, I would go tell them to stop it and to treat that person with respect.” Then I told him about our team’s earlier work of reporting on the abuse of Iraqi prisoners in U.S. custody and taking that report to U.S. officials.


The security investigator apologized for asking such questions and then told me, “Thank you for being willing to come to help the Iraqi people.” My investigation was over.

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Iraq: Not a Demonstration

by Doug Pritchard

“We are having a demonstration tomorrow, but it is not a demonstration,” an organizer told CPT’s Iraq team in Suleimaniya, a city in the Kurdish region of northeastern Iraq. “It is a ‘meeting’ – in front of the Ministry of the Interior,” he continued. “We will read out a letter about the Baker-Hamilton Report.”


Many Kurds are upset about the USA’s Iraq Study Group (Baker-Hamilton) report for several reasons. Protest organizers say: 1) it only addresses the problems that the U.S. is having in Iraq and does not address Iraqi needs; 2) it encourages a continuation of sectarian governments by involving neighboring states like Iran, Syria, Turkey, Saudi Arabia and Jordan who already have proxy forces operating in Iraq; 3) it delays the previously agreed referendum on the status of Kirkuk [which Kurds think they would win]; and 4) it does not allow for Kurdish self-determination. They say that most Kurds agree with these criticisms.


In mid-December, organizers applied to the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) for permission to hold a demonstration protesting the Baker-Hamilton report. The KRG initially gave them permission, but on the day of the demonstration, told them that they had to postpone it for a week. On that date, the organizers learned that they could not hold the demonstration at all “because there were Americans around.”


Fed up by these delays, the organizers decided to have a “meeting” in front of the Kurdistan Ministry of the Interior building in downtown Suleimaniya. They planned to gather and read out a letter protesting the U.S. report. The gathering was not a demonstration. It was a meeting. But somehow, the KRG police found out and were out in force before anyone arrived. When a handful of people gathered for the “meeting,” organizers decided to cancel it “because of the rain.”


When asked why the Kurdistan government would forbid their demonstration/meeting to voice this critique, one organizer said, “Our government suppresses us to satisfy the U.S. because the U.S. and Turkey do not want Kurdish independence. This is the nature of our government.”

 

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Iraq Project Update

by Peggy Gish and Doug Pritchard

Because of the deteriorating security situation in Iraq, CPT has had to restrict its recent work to northern Iraq. The need for truth-telling, support of nonviolent movements, and ethnic and religious reconciliation continues to be great.


In the Kurdish north the team explored possibilities and built new collaborative relationships. This work took team members into situations of conflict, but the team did not want its presence to put local people in even greater danger.


As we formed these relationships, another difficult incident interrupted the process. In late January 2007, CPTers Will VanWagenen and Peggy Gish, along with two Iraqi associates, were abducted briefly in a Kurdish area outside the official Kurdish Region. They were released unharmed.


As a result, Kurdish authorities, embarrassed by the incident, have refused to complete CPT’s registration and visa processes, at least temporarily.
The Iraq team feels a deep love for the Iraqi people. We know that the suffering and daily threat of violence that Iraqis face is far greater than what we have experienced, and we don’t want our difficulties to reduce attention to their story.


On February 28, 2007, the team left Iraq to return home for healing and discernment. We continue to examine whether or how we can work in Iraq. Is it time to close the project, or just withdraw for a time to learn from our experiences and return if we receive a clear call? We appreciate your continued prayers.


CPTers serving the Iraq Team December 2006 - February 2007 were: Anita David (Chicago, IL), Art Gish (Athens, OH), Peggy Gish (Athens, OH), Joe Mueller (Cleveland, OH), Doug Pritchard (Toronto, ON), Beth Pyles (McDowell, VA), Will VanWagenen (Provo, UT).

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At-Tuwani: Seven Homes Demolished

 

Palestinians wail as Israeli soldiers demolish their homes

Photo by Nayef Hashlamoun

On February 14, 2007 Israeli soldiers demolished seven homes in three Palestinian villages near bypass road 317 in the South Hebron district.
Villagers alerted CPTers that bulldozers were coming to demolish the Mosque in At-Tuwani, or so they feared. When the convoy of forty Israeli soldiers with two bulldozers stopped at Imneizil, 5 kilometers away, CPTers Sean O’Neill and Heidi Schramm hurried there but the bulldozers had already done their damage. They demolished one home, an animal pen and a stone bake-oven.


Several young children were in their home eating when the Israeli military arrived. The soldiers gave the family time to get out, but did not give them time to remove their personal belongings. Two lambs were injured when a bulldozer flattened the family’s animal pen.


The convoy left Imneizil towards At-Tuwani around noon but stopped 2 kilometers away at Qawawis where soldiers demolished the homes of five families and one bake-oven. One of the homes was over sixty-five years old and sheltered two families. CPTers Sally Hunsberger and Rich Meyer arrived on foot as the bulldozers rumbled off. They stayed with the traumatized families for several hours in the silence of the rubble.


Meanwhile, members of the Israeli peace group, Ta’ayush, arrived by car and caught up with the convoy as it rolled past At-Tuwani and on to the village of Um Al-Kher where bulldozers destroyed one home and damaged the wall of another. Police arrested one Israeli peace activist attempting to prevent the demolition.
The Israeli military, in concert with Israeli settlers, has been trying to force the Palestinian residents of the South Hebron Hills to leave their homes for years. Due to harassment from nearby Israeli settlement outposts, several of the young families of Qawawis moved to a nearby town. When the Israeli army then forcibly evacuated the remaining families, a court ordered that the families could return to their homes. According to a lawyer representing the families, the Israeli army now claims that this court ruling applies only to the older inhabitants of Qawawis, not their children’s families who earlier fled the assaults of the Israeli settlers.
“Our children need homes,” said one villager. “What do they want us to do?”


According to the Israeli army’s report, “Twenty illegal structures were destroyed after demolition orders were issued, and offers were made to the owners to pursue the available options before the planning organizations. The supervisory unit of the civil administration will continue to operate against illegal building activity in the area.”


The Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions reiterated that Israeli authorities will not issue building permits to Palestinians in the South Hebron Hills, making “legal” building activity impossible.


The Israeli military made no provisions to shelter the families whose homes they demolished. The families asked the International Committee of the Red Cross to provide them with tents.


“The persistence of Palestinians has shown time and again that demolition does not make them go away,” said CPTer Rich Meyer. “People will rebuild their houses.”

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At-Tuwani: “Hope is Our Salvation”

by Janet Benvie

Nomfundo Walaza addresses participants on nonviolence

“I know what it is to live in a divided society,” said South African psychologist Nomfundo Walaza to a crowd of over 150 people gathered in the small village of At-Tuwani for a workshop entitled “Nonviolence, Truth, Reconciliation: Could this be the way?”


Walaza participated in South Africa’s Truth & Reconciliation Commission from 1996 to 2000 and currently lectures at Denver University.
“I know of the pain of being hounded every day,” she continued. “I know of the pain of having to carry little pieces of paper to be able to move in my land from one area to another. I know of the pain of seeing houses demolished.”


More than two-thirds of the workshop participants came from At-Tuwani and the surrounding villages in the South Hebron Hills. Palestinians and internationals from Bethlehem, Jerusalem and Hebron joined them.


Waleza was especially pleased to see so many children in the audience because she believes strongly in the importance of passing on a culture of nonviolent resistance and hope to future generations.


While acknowledging the difficulty of maintaining hope amidst so much suffering, Waleza insisted that, “To give up is to let the enemy triumph over you. Hope is our only salvation.”


She added that nonviolent resistance is an important way to maintain one’s rights when faced with oppression. “By remaining nonviolent in the struggle for justice,” she said, “the oppressed do not destroy themselves.”


After lunch, Walaza met with women from the villages who shared their experiences of violence and harassment from Israeli settlers and soldiers, and ways in which they resist nonviolently. The women talked about the importance of supporting each other within their communities and about the value of internationals living alongside them. They said that internationals like Walaza can support them by witnessing to their oppression around the world.


CPT and Operation Dove (an Italian peace group) organized the February 6 workshop in At-Tuwani. The event was sponsored by “So Far, So Close,” a project funded by the European Partnership for Peace.

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Hebron: Teenagers Detained

On February 7, Israeli soldiers detained three CPTers in the area around the Beit Romano checkpoint while they were trying to negotiate the release of two Palestinian boys, aged thirteen and fifteen.


Reservist Barb Martens noticed photojournalists trying to take pictures between the cracks of the metal checkpoint doors and established that the Israeli army had detained the youths. Team members Jan Benvie and Abigail Ozanne joined Martens and asked the soldiers to release the boys. The soldiers refused, claiming that the boys had thrown stones at them. CPTers were unable to see clearly what was happening to the boys, although Ozanne was able to videotape through a gap in the metal gates.


Team members Bill Baldwin and Dianne Roe succeeded in reaching the boys, having walked along a road illegally restricted to Israeli settler use. Israeli soldiers prevented Roe’s attempt to speak to the boys.


The soldiers then blindfolded the already handcuffed boys and ordered Baldwin and Roe to leave the area. Both CPTers refused to leave and the squad leader informed them they were under arrest.


Seven soldiers then came out of the gates and yelled at the gathered journalists and Palestinians. They pointed their guns, threatened arrest and one soldier prepared to throw a grenade causing the crowd to scatter. Another soldier grabbed Ozanne, pulled her into the area behind the gate, and told her she was under arrest.


The soldiers took the teenagers toward the military base, refusing to give any information to the boys’ waiting relatives.


As Benvie and Martens monitored the activity, the squad commander came out and physically forced Benvie, under protest, into the area beyond the gate. Martens managed to slip by the soldiers.


Israeli police then took Benvie, Ozanne and Roe to the Kiryat Arba police station, but released Baldwin.


CPTers remained in police custody for an hour at which point officers viewed the team’s videotape of the incident, verified that CPTers are allowed to photograph soldiers, and released them. The Israeli army held the two boys at the military base for five hours before releasing them.

 

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Hebron: Open Shuhada Street!

by Janet Benvie

 

Palestinians hold an "open air conference" to open Shuhada Street

Shuhada Street used to be one of Hebron’s main thoroughfares. Six years ago the Israeli army closed it to Palestinians and shut down all the roadside shops and stalls. These restrictions have had a profound, detrimental effect on the livelihood of thousands of Palestinian families.


In December 2006, the Israeli High Court ordered the street re-opened after senior officers of the Israel Defense Forces discovered the closure had been “a mistake.” However, the road still remains closed.


On January 25, 2007 nearly 200 Palestinians and international peace activists, including CPTers, participated in an open-air conference beside the Israeli military checkpoint at the top of Shuhada Street calling for the army to abide by the High Court ruling.


Palestinian residents of Tel Rumeida, the community most severely affected by the closure, spoke about the harsh living conditions caused by restrictions on their movement enforced by the Israeli military. A local school headmistress related the difficulties her students face every day trying to get to and from school. A twelve-year-old boy from Tel Rumeida told of his experiences of growing up in a land under military occupation.


CPTers discovered later that soldiers had prevented Israeli peace activists from passing through the checkpoint to join the conference.


Issa Amro, a Palestinian nonviolent activist and one of the conference organizers, told CPT that his group plans to hold weekly events until the Israeli army re-opens the street.

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Bi’lin: Stop the Wall!

The current route of Israel’s “Security Barrier” in the West Bank will gobble up over half the land of the Palestinian village of Bi’lin, stifling its agricultural economy. The majority of the village’s land, 2300 dunams (almost 600 acres) including some 150,000 olive trees, lies on the Israeli side of the wall about 20 kilometers northwest of Jerusalem.


The Israeli government intends to expand three settlements already built on Bi’lin’s land – a move referred to by the Israeli newspaper, Haaretz, as the “largest-ever illegal construction project in the West Bank.”


Bi’lin residents initiated weekly protests in April 2004 when they learned about the amount of land threatened by the wall’s construction. On February 23, CPTers participated in a nonviolent demonstration in Bi’lin marking the second anniversary of those weekly rallies. About 1000 people participated in the protest.


When a handful of Palestinian youth standing at some distance from the crowd threw stones, the Israeli military tried to break up the entire demonstration using tear gas, sound grenades, and a water cannon.


Participants held firm. “As I sat in a circle, my arms linked to those beside me, and faced the Israeli forces, I felt the power of nonviolent resistance,” said CPTer Abigail Ozanne. “I sat there, soaked from the water cannon, my ears aching from the concussion grenades, my throat sore from the teargas, and wondered what weapons the military would use next.”


When the demonstration ended, the military continued to fire teargas and sound grenades at peaceful protesters leaving the site. Ozanne sustained several large bruises when Israeli soldiers launched a grenade at her. Several nonviolent demonstrators were taken away in ambulances due to injuries inflicted by the Israeli army.

Action: Stop the Wall

Please sign the online petition against the construction of the separation wall in the Palestinian village of Bi’lin, found at www.petitiononline.com/Bilin/petition.html


CPTers serving the Palestine Teams (Hebron and At-Tuwani) December 2006 - February 2007
were: Bill Baldwin (Ottawa, ON), Jan Benvie (Fife, Scotland), John Funk (Armstrong, BC), Art Gish (Athens, OH), Laurie Hadden (Markham, ON), Bob Holmes (Toronto, ON), Sally Hunsperger (Washington, DC), Jerry Levin (Birmingham, AL), John Lynes (Sussex, England), Ilse Muehlsteph (Bielefeld, Germany), Barb Martens (Ruthven, ON), Cathy McLean (Ailsa Craig, ON), Rich Meyer (Millersburg, IN), Sean O’Neill (Springfield, OH), Abigail Ozanne (Falcon Heights, MN), Amy Peters (Hanley, SK), Rick Polhamus (Fletcher, OH), Dianne Roe (Corning, NY), Heidi Schramm (Lindenhurst, IL), Allan Slater (Lakeside, ON), Jerry Stein (Amarillo, TX), Kathie Uhler (New York, NY). Delegation members January 10-22 were: William Bartlett (Tiskilwa, IL), Krista Dutt (Chicago, IL), Michael Fay (Washington, DC), Sharon Fritsch (Chico, CA), Joyce Guinn (Germantown, WI), Randall Janzen (Nelson, BC), Ronald King (Penobscot, ME), Paul McKeown (Northern Ireland), Rick Polhamus (Fletcher, OH), Fred Snyder (Lincoln, NE), and Ryan Sweeney (Walnut Creek, CA)

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Arizona: Migrating Profits

by Scott Kerr

Scott Kerr served on the Arizona team from 2004-2006. He is currently studying

The Bush administration’s immigration policy has put bigger walls and more guns along the U.S./Mexico border. Now private corporations want a piece of the border security pie.


Military contractors Boeing and Raytheon are bidding on contacts worth over 2 billion dollars.


Security contractor, Wackenhut – the U.S.’s second largest private jailer – is deeply involved in running private prisons within the United States and providing security to nuclear facilities and military bases. It’s new contract with the Department of Homeland Security includes transporting migrants out of the desert by bus once they have been apprehended by the Border Patrol, and then “removing” migrants from the country once they have been processed at a Border Patrol station.


Some call the dramatically increased role of contractors in all aspects of the Federal system a “fourth branch of government” operating outside mechanisms of direct public accountability. Advocates for migrants fear that these developments create fertile ground for abuse. CPT is particularly concerned about Wackenhut’s presence along the border because of their direct contact with migrants.


CPT delegations to the border region this spring will help monitor the work of private contractors, documenting and reporting their first-hand observations, as well as interviewing migrants who have been detained and transported by Wackenhut personnel.


It will take the eyes and ears of all concerned to make sure the rights and dignity of migrants are respected, and that those who profit from war, violence and unjust immigration policies are held accountable.


For more information see: www.eyeonwackenhut.com and www.corpwatch.org.

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Philippines: Recovering from Toxicity

CPT Director Emeritus Gene Stoltzfus (Ft. Frances, ON) spent the month of January 2007 visiting the Philippines with Reservists Elizabeth García (Brownsville, TX) and Rey Lopez (Manila, Philippines). He wrote the following letter after hearing about the Bush administration’s planned troop surge in Iraq, where he also spent time in 2004.

Filipina victims of toxic waste from US bases

Dear friends in Iraq,
I am traveling now in the Philippines where news of increased troop levels and warfare in your land reaches us. I imagine with horror the columns of military vehicles weaving their way through narrow streets past the homes and storefronts of your neighborhoods.


I remember vividly my conversations with medical professionals and citizens in Iraq concerned about the devastating, toxic effects of depleted uranium (DU) from U.S. ammunition shells.


Last week I walked through the deserted U.S. bases at Subic and Clark and heard about the toxic aftermath of that military presence.


I wish you could have met Mr. Dino, 76, who carries asbestos in his body from years of work at Subic Naval Base. He is one of a 1000 former base workers in the city of Olongapo whose condition – asbestos poisoning in the lungs – has been confirmed by medical tests. Three of his colleagues with the same condition described the difficulty they have experienced in getting medical help from their former U.S. employers or the Philippine government.


I met several women working in the zone once occupied by the enormous Clark Air Force Base. They described miscarriages, persistent headaches, and other infections related to discarded military waste.


As I listened to their stories, I saw you beside them, reaching out for a fair measure of time.


Heroic efforts by the People’s Task Force for Bases Clean-up and other grassroots groups in the Philippines have identified the problems and are pushing for accountability. I hope someday you might send a delegation here to visit these abandoned facilities and meet these courageous victims of toxicity. They are truly a model of the firmness and vigilance required to deal with military installations of foreign nations.


I know that you will someday be left alone to recover from the nightmare you are now going through. Long after the final explosions, some of you, my friends, will be left with the lonely task of cleaning up from the war.


I know that American authorities have taken no responsibility for this new plague of DU. Your willingness to speak out will be a gift for humanity everywhere. Be assured that many of us will share in the hard work of scientific research and agitation. We hope that our combined efforts might install a binding legal mechanism that will prevent this scourge from crippling future generations.


Sincerely,
Gene Stoltzfus

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Philippines: The People’s War Against Terror

Elizabeth García recently returned from a CPT exploratory delegation to the Philippines.

Velia Pablo is Aeta (EYE-ta), a descendant of the original inhabitants of the Philippines. After the Mt. Pinatubo volcano erupted in 1991, the government resettled Velia and about 14,000 other families to the city of Olongapo near the former U.S. Subic Naval Base on the island of Luzon.


People like Velia worked hard to get rid of U.S. military bases on Philippine soil. Unfortunately their problems did not end when the bases finally closed in 1992. The toxic waste left behind is responsible for increased disease and birth defects including cerebral palsy and leukemia. Velia, who tested positive for asbestosis in 2004, is part of the People’s Task Force for Bases Clean-up struggling for justice for those affected.


While visiting with Velia, I learned about another problem facing her community – the Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA). In 1999, the Philippine government agreed to let U.S. troops return to the country for joint military training exercises. One provision of the accord allows the U.S. government to retain jurisdiction over U.S. military personnel accused of committing crimes in the Philippines.


Filipinos are outraged over a case in which U.S. Marine Daniel Smith raped a Filipina (nicknamed “Nicole”) in November 2005. On December 4, 2006 a Filipino court found Smith guilty but he remains in U.S. custody. Filipinos feel that what happens on Philippine soil should be dealt with in the Philippines by Filipinos.
Prostitution of young girls is also on the rise because of the VFA. CPTers visiting Angeles City in the former Clark Air Base area witnessed young girls accompanied by U.S. soldiers.


I cannot help but wonder when the U.S. government will stop raping, not only women in the countries they “visit,” but entire communities. They violated Nicole’s body and they violated Velia’s land, hopes and dreams. Velia and Nicole are engaged in their own “war against terror” created by U.S. military presence.

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Congo: Why Have We Abandoned Them?

by Sandra Rincón

CPTers Sandra Rincón (Colombia) and Tracy Hughes (Miamisburg, OH) continued exploratory visits in the Congo and Uganda following a two-week women’s delegation last October.

A short airplane trip over the luscious scenery of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) landed us in the city of Bunia, located in the heart of one of the richest regions in the country. Great bodies of gold that lie beneath the soil are coveted by many, including the DRC’s neighbors.


With each human rights group and social organization we met, I saw the profound beauty of men and women who have grown up in a country abundant in resources that deprives them of even minimal opportunity to live with dignity.


Smiling women in brilliant clothes full of colors and designs met us with warmth and joy as intense and real as their desire to share their pain. Their hospitality reminded me of the precious moments I have enjoyed with families in the small farming communities along the Opón River in rural Colombia.


As the stories of these Congolese sisters and brothers unfolded, the words of Jesus during his torture before he died echoed in every detail: “My God, my God, why have you abandoned me?”


At times, because I feared the pain of listening to so much meaningless brutality, I found myself wanting to stay focused on the external beauty visible around me. My heart could not bear the truth of the recurrent violence fed by ethnic divisions, economic interests, desire for wealth, control and power. I asked myself a thousand times, “My God, my God, why have you abandoned them?”


The impact of this experience leaves me with profound challenges:

  • To be more attentive to each person I encounter.
  • To understand how this gold that should be a blessing has become a curse for so many Congolese.
  • To expose how the armaments and military aid sent from comfortable offices of large companies in rich countries like the United States and Great Britain are devastating the life of these people.
  • To recognize when “development” is really a lie fed to us by transnational corporations like Anglo Gold Ashanti to get rich off their victims.
  • To pay attention to the people who rise up, many from the grip of death, to survive.
  • To honor those who suffer because of the conflict, yet maintain hope and continue working for its end.
  • To remember that as daughters and sons of God we are part of the same body.

How is it possible that this body is suffering so much and we have not felt it? How is it possible that we have not even been interested to know what is happening or how to help heal it? My God, my God, why have we abandoned them?

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Chicago: Eleven Arrested in Guantánamo Witness

Seven CPT training participants were among eleven people arrested in a prayerful witness calling for an end to indefinite detention and inhumane treatment of detainees at Guantánamo. January 11 marked five years since the U.S. military first brought prisoners to the detention center at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba.


Participants wearing orange jumpsuits and black hoods knelt in silence in the lobby of the glass-walled Federal Courthouse in downtown Chicago. Meanwhile supporters delivered a writ of habeas corpus on behalf of the 435 men still held at Guantánamo without charge or access to legal counsel.


In a surprising move, Chief Judge James F. Holderman came down to the lobby and addressed the group. He reviewed the writs of habeas corpus, but declined to act on them saying the cases were outside his jurisdiction. He recommended addressing the U.S. Federal Court in Washington, DC and instructed federal marshals to allow the group to stay.


When the courthouse closed for the day, participants explained that they would remain inside until the U.S. government shut down Guantánamo, at which point officers arrested them.


Eight of the eleven were ticketed for trespass and released with a trial date of March 12. Three CPTers, who chose to remain nameless in solidarity with the anonymous prisoners at Guantánamo, spent the night in jail. They were brought before a judge the next day and prosecutors moved to drop the charges.

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Peace Briefs

Occupation Project: Activists across the United States are peaceably occupying offices of Senate and Congressional representatives in a campaign of sustained nonviolent civil disobedience to end the Iraq war. Participants seek assurance that elected officials will vote against President Bush’s proposed $93 billion dollar supplemental spending bill to fund ongoing war in Iraq. More than 122 people have been arrested so far in the project initiated by Voices for Creative Nonviolence. On March 9, in honor of Tom Fox killed one year ago in Iraq, CPTers in Chicago organized a die-in at the office of Congressman Rahm Emanuel to dramatize the choice legislators make by continuing to fund the war. For more information see www.vcnv.org

Peace Tax Fund Advocate Dies:
Marian Franz, a leader of the movement to extend conscientious objection to the payment of war taxes, died November 17, 2006 after a two-year struggle with cancer. She was 76. For 24 years, Franz directed the National Campaign for a Peace Tax Fund, lobbying Congress to pass legislation allowing conscientious objectors to pay all of their taxes without funding the military. “War taxes kill twice,” Franz said. “First, they directly enable war . . . particularly paying for weapons. Second, taxes allocated for war represent a distortion of priorities. Money is taken away from the important work of healing and spent to destroy and kill.” Franz was a regular contributor to CPT. For more information see www.peacetaxfund.org

Your Tax Dollars at Work: The War Resisters League’s annual pie chart showing “Where Your Income Tax Money Really Goes” indicates that 51% of the U.S. budget for fiscal year 2008 funds war-making. For more information visit www.warresisters.org/piechart.htm.

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Announcements

Christian Peacemaker Congress IX
Tearing Down Walls, Restoring Communities
September 20-23, 2007
Toronto, Ontario
Canada


Walls too numerous to name divide and destroy what King called the “Beloved Community.” Come explore creative ways to tear down these dividers and transform relations into a restored whole. Participate in worship, workshops and acts of prophetic public witness.

Featuring Keynote Speaker Jim Loney
As a founding member of the Toronto Catholic Worker, Jim has been building the beloved community since early adulthood. In late November 2005, while leading a CPT delegation in Iraq, Jim and three others were taken hostage. Almost four months later, and after the murder of fellow CPTer Tom Fox, Jim and the other two were rescued. Jim will reflect on the disciplines of peacemaking and community building in seemingly contrasting environments.

For registration information, visit www.cpt.org or contact CPT’s Toronto office: 416-423-5525; canada@cpt.org

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Letters

Hi CPT. My family and I went to the [January 27] peace march in Washington, DC. My brother and I sold some rocks that said “Peace” and on the back they said the date of the march. One of our customers was a friend of Tom Fox. We are giving you $7 of what we made. Thanks for working for peace.
Caleb Walker Wilson, age 9
Asheville, NC

If we are asking our political representatives to withhold the money for escalating the Iraq war, should we not be ready to do the same? What can we do this tax season to encourage people to withhold or protest the amount of their taxes that funds the Iraq War? Without our money, the war could not go on.
Kamala Platt
Edinburg, TX

Sadly, we no longer resonate with your approach. It seems to have lost its distinctive “Christian” character, eg. when Sikh & Muslim teachings are invoked in “Iraq: The Power of Forgiveness.” [Vol. XVI, No. 4] Perhaps a renaming is in order; maybe “Trans-religious Peacemaker Teams?” Hoping you’ll find Jesus to be your sole and sufficient inspiration in ministry!
Jeffrey & Alicia Lewis
Bothell, WA

I like the way in which you publish letters to the editor even those very negative to CPT - this too is in the spirit of peace.
George Epp
Chilliwack, BC

If you win the fight for pulling out our troops, then make sure you greet the first insurgents in this country. You may not want war, but the war will find you. So please get your head out of the sand and support the brave soldiers who gave you the opportunity to speak your mind, no matter how insane you sound.
Lela Rea
Internet

 

CPT Calendar 2007

Peacemaker Delegations:
• Arizona Borderlands: May 24 - June 4
• Colombia: May 23 - June 5; July 18-31; September 26 - October 9.
• Palestine/Israel: May 29 - June 10; July 30 - August 11; October 16-28; November 19 - December 1.
• U.S.– Depleted Uranium: May 18-27
Peacemaker Trainings:
• Summer: July 16-August 16, 2007; Chicago, IL
Peacemaker Congress IX:
• September 20-22, 2007; Toronto, ON
Steering Committee Meetings:
• Spring 2007: March 22-24; Chicago, IL
• Fall 2007: October 11-13; Osler, Saskatchewan

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Credits

Signs of the Times is produced four times a year. Batches of 10 or more are available to institutions, congregations, and local groups for distribution. Any part of Signs of the Times may be used without permission. Please send CPT a copy of the reprint. Your contributions finance CPT ministries including the distribution of 21,000 copies of Signs of the Times. The work of CPT is guided by a 13-member STEERING COMMITTEE: Lois Baker, Jan Benvie, Tony Brown, Ruth Buhler, Walter Franz, Susan Mark Landis, Lee McKenna duCharme, Phil Miller, William Payne, Sandra Rincón, Hedy Sawadsky, John Stoner, Brian Young. CHRISTIAN PEACEMAKER CORPS: Jan Benvie, Kryss Chupp, Suzanna Collerd, Anita David, Noah Dillard, Claire Evans, Mark Frey, Peggy Gish, Jill Granberg, Julián Gutiérrez, Eileen Hanson, Tracy Hughes, Rebecca Johnson, Kathleen Kern, Joel Klassen, Jerry Levin, John Lynes, Rich Meyer, Anne Montgomery, Sean O’Neill, Abigail Ozanne, Jessica Phillips, Doug Pritchard, Sandra Rincón, Dianne Roe, Carol Rose, Heidi Schramm, Pierre Shantz, Sarah Shirk, Kathie Uhler, Stewart Vriesinga, Mary Wendeln. RESERVE CORPS: 167 women and men from the U.S., Canada, Bahrain, England, Germany, Israel, Italy, New Zealand, Philippines, and Scotland.