More Lost by the Second

by Kathy Kelly

Afghan women and children wait as U.S. Special Operations forces and Afghan soldiers search their home during a night raid in Farah province. (Associated Press)

It’s a bit odd to me that with my sense of geographical direction I’m ever regarded as a leader to guide groups in foreign travel.  I’m recalling a steaming hot night in Lahore, Pakistan when Josh Brollier and I, having enjoyed a lengthy dinner with Lahore University students, needed to head back to the guest lodgings graciously provided us by a headmaster of the Garrison School for Boys.  We had boarded a rickshaw, but the driver had soon become terribly lost and with my spotty sense of direction and my complete ignorance of Urdu, I couldn’t be any help. My cell phone was out of juice, and I was uncertain anyway of the needed phone number. I bumped and jostled in the back seat of the rickshaw, next to Josh, as we embarked on a nightmare of travel over unpaved, rutted roads in dizzying traffic until finally the rickshaw driver spotted a sign belonging to our school – the wrong campus, we all knew – and eager to unload us, roused the inhabitants and hustled us and our bags into the street before moving on.

We stood inside the gate, staring blankly at a family that had been sound asleep on cots in the courtyard.  In no time, the father of the family scooped up his two children, gently moving them to the cot he shared with his wife so that Josh and I would have a cot on which to sit.  Then he and his spouse disappeared into their humble living quarters. He reappeared with a fan and an extension cord, wanting to give us some relief from the blistering night heat.  His wife emerged carrying a glass of tea for each of us.  They didn’t know us from Adam’s house cat, but they were treating us as family – the celebrated but always astonishing hospitality that we’d encountered in the region so many times before.  Eventually, we established with our host that we were indeed at the wrong campus, upon which he called the family that had been nervously waiting for our errant selves.

This courtyard scene of startling hospitality would return to my mind when we all learned of the U.S. Joint Special Operations (JSO) Force night raid in the Nangarhar province, on May 12, 2011. No matter which side of the Afghanistan/Pakistan border you are on, suffocating hot temperatures prevail day and night during these hot months.  It’s normal for people to sleep in their courtyards.  How could anyone living in the region not know this?  Yet the U.S. JSO forces that came in the middle of the night to the home of a 12 year old girl, Nilofer, who had been asleep on her cot in the courtyard, began their raid by throwing a grenade into the courtyard, landing at Nilofer’s head.  She died instantly.  Nilofer’s uncle raced into the courtyard. He worked with the Afghan Local Police, and they had told him not to join that night’s patrol because he didn’t know much about the village they would go to, so he had instead gone to his brother’s home.  When he heard the grenade explode, he may well have presumed the Taliban were attacking the home.  U.S. troops killed him as soon as they saw him.  Later, NATO issued an apology.

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An Open Letter to Senator Mark Kirk on the Gaza Flotilla

An Open Letter to Illinois Senator Mark Kirk
responding to his call for U.S. Special Forces to attack a flotilla of ships that will sail to Gaza

Senator Mark Kirk
524 Hart Senate Office Building
Washington DC, 20510

June 29th, 2011

Dear Senator Kirk,

We are Illinois residents writing to you from Athens, Greece. Just before leaving the United States, we wrote to inform your office about our intent to sail on “The Audacity of Hope,” as part of the US Boat to Gaza project.  In our letters, we explained why we were traveling to Gaza.  We told you of our previous experiences living among Palestinians who lack access to basic necessities, such as clean water, because of the blockade. Referring to Gaza as the world’s largest open-air prison, we mentioned how hard it has been for people to rebuild after previous lethal assaults, especially the Operation Cast Lead attack which ended, after 23 days, on January 18, 2009.  According to B’tselem, the foremost Israeli Human Rights Organization, Operation Cast Lead caused the deaths of 1,389 Palestinians in Gaza.  Of those, 344 were children. Of the 13 Israelis who were killed, four were soldiers killed by friendly fire.

Knowing that you and your staff care deeply about the consequences of unemployment, poor education and dangerously limited health care delivery, we pointed out related statistics affecting people in Gaza where 45% of the population is unemployed and hospital administrators are sounding the alarm because they are running out of crucial medicines.  Half of Gaza’s 1.6 million people are under age 18.

Continue reading “An Open Letter to Senator Mark Kirk on the Gaza Flotilla”

Don’t Look Away: The Siege of Gaza Must End

by Kathy Kelly

In late June 2011, I’m going to be a passenger on “The Audacity of Hope,” the USA boat in this summer’s international flotilla to break the illegal and deadly Israeli siege of Gaza. Organizers, supporters and passengers aim to nonviolently end the brutal collective punishment imposed on Gazan residents since 2006 when the Israeli government began a stringent air, naval and land blockade of the Gaza Strip explicitly to punish Gaza’s residents for choosing the Hamas government in a democratic election.  Both the Hamas and the Israeli governments have indiscriminately killed civilians in repeated attacks, but the vast preponderance of these outrages over the length of the conflict have been inflicted by Israeli soldiers and settlers on unarmed Palestinians.  I was witness to one such attack when last in Gaza two years ago, under heavy Israeli bombardment in a civilian neighborhood in Rafah.

In January 2009, I lived with a family in Rafah during the final days of the “Operation Cast Lead” bombing.  We were a few streets down from an area where there was heavy bombing. Employing its ever-replenished stockpile of U.S. weapons, the Israeli government sought to destroy tunnels beneath the Egyptian border through which food, medicine, badly-needed building supplies, and possibly a few weapons as well were evading the internationally condemned blockade and entering Gaza.

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The Predators: Where is Your Democracy?

by Kathy Kelly

On May 4, 2011, CNN World News asked whether killing Osama bin Laden was legal under international law.  Other news commentary has questioned whether it would have been both possible and advantageous to bring Osama bin Laden to trial rather than kill him.

World attention has been focused, however briefly, on questions of legality regarding the killing of Osama bin Laden.  But, with the increasing use of Predator drones to kill suspected “high value targets” in Pakistan and Afghanistan, extrajudicial killings by U.S. military forces have become the new norm.

Just three days after Osama bin Laden was killed, an attack employing remote-control aerial drones killed fifteen people in Pakistan and wounded four. CNN reports that their Islamabad bureau has counted four drone strikes over the last month and a half since the March 17 drone attack which killed 44 people in Pakistan’s tribal region. This most recent suspected strike was the 21st this year.  There were 111 strikes in 2010. The Human Rights Commission of Pakistan estimated that 957 innocent civilians were killed in 2010.

I’m reminded of an encounter I had, in May, 2010 ,when a journalist and a social worker from North Waziristan met with a small Voices for Creative Nonviolence delegation in Pakistan  and described, in gory and graphic detail, the scenes of drone attacks which they had personally witnessed:  the carbonized bodies, burned so fully they could be identified by legs and hands alone, the bystanders sent flying like dolls through the air to break, with shattered bones and sometimes-fatal brain injuries, upon walls and stone.

Continue reading “The Predators: Where is Your Democracy?”

Incalculable: The human cost of NATO’s war on Afghanistan

by Kathy Kelly

Bodies of children killed by US-Nato bombing

Recent polls suggest that while a majority of U.S. people disapprove of the war in Afghanistan, many on grounds of its horrible economic cost, only 3% took the war into account when voting in the 2010 midterm elections.  The issue of the economy weighed heavily on voters, but the war and its cost, though clear to them and clearly related to the economy in their thinking, was a far less pressing concern.

U.S. people, if they do read or hear of it, may be shocked at the apparent unconcern of the crews of two U.S. helicopter gunships, which attacked and killed nine children on a mountainside in Afghanistan’s Kunar province, shooting them “one after another” this past Tuesday March 1st.  (“The helicopters hovered over us, scanned us and we saw a green flash from the helicopters. Then they flew back high up, and in a second round they hovered over us and started shooting.” (NYT 3/2/11)).

Four of the boys were seven years old; three were eight, one was nine and the oldest was twelve.  “The children were gathering wood under a tree in the mountains near a village in the district,” said Noorullah Noori, a member of the local development council in Manogai district. “I myself was involved in the burial,” Noori said. “Yesterday we buried them.” (AP, March 2, 2011)  General Petraeus has acknowledged, and apologized for, the tragedy.

Continue reading “Incalculable: The human cost of NATO’s war on Afghanistan”

We Want You Out

An open letter from the Afghan Youth Peace Volunteers and Afghans for Peace

As the Obama administration releases its December review of the U.S. war effort in Afghanistan, the Afghan Youth Peace Volunteers, along with Afghans for Peace, have issued a review of their experiences.  To express support for their letter, click here.

To all the leaders of our world, the leaders of the US-led coalition, the Afghan government, the ‘Taliban/Al-Qaeda’ and regional countries,

We are intolerably angry.

All our senses are hurting.

Our women, our men and yes shame on you, our children are grieving.

Your Afghan civilian-military strategy is a murderous stench we smell, see, hear and breathe.

President Obama, and all the elite players and people of the world, why?

America’s 250-million-dollar annual communications budget just to scream propaganda on this war of perceptions, with its nauseating rhetoric mimicked by Osama and other warlords, is powerless before the silent wailing of every anaemic mother.

We will no longer be passive prey to your disrespectful systems of oligarchic, plutocratic war against the people.

Your systems feed the rich and powerful. They are glaringly un-equal, they do not listen, do not think and worst, they do not care.

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Hunger and Anger in Afghanistan

by Kathy Kelly

(Photo: Paul Casier)

The Obama administration has announced the imminent release of a December Review which will evaluate the U.S. troop presence in Afghanistan.  The military has yet to disclose what the specific categories for evaluation will be.  Yet many people in Afghanistan might wish that hunger along with their anger over attacks against civilians could top the list.

In Afghanistan, a nation where 850 children die every day, about a quarter of the population goes hungry. The UN says that 7.4 million Afghans live with hunger and fear of starvation, while millions more rely on food help, and one in five children die before the age of five. 

 “Do you think we like to live this way?” an Afghan man asked me, last October, as he led us toward a primitive tent encampment on the outskirts of Kabul. “Do you see how we live?  The cold and the rain are coming.  How will we protect our children?”  He flicked his forefinger on a weather-beaten blanket covering a tent.  The blanket immediately ripped. 

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