Reports from Palestine
Earth Day in Israel: Apartheid Showing through the Greenwash
Occupied Washington, DC
AIPAC: Telling a Whopper
Questioning Our Special Relationship with Israel
My Memories of Fort Hood
Italy's Fallen Soldiers
Yes We Camp
Absurdity is the Norm in the Gaza Strip
U.S. Military Base in Vicenza, Italy Gets Final Approval
Mat and Yvonne Say: No Dal Molin
Anti War March in DC
March for Palestine
Letters from Camp Casey
Don't Iraq Iran
Italian National Assembly of the Anti-War Movement
International Peace Conference in London
Note: Opinions or points of view expressed are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the position of USC4P&J
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International Peace Conference, London
December 10, 2005
Organized by Stop The War Coalition of the U.K., this promised to be one of the biggest gatherings of peace activists ever assembled. And from all initial estimates, it was.
Over 1400 participants gathered at the Royal Horticultural Hall in London for a full 10 hours of talks on what was deemed "the central problem in world politics today", namely the crisis caused by the invasion and occupation of Iraq, with speakers from the U.S., the U.K. and Iraq, the three countries most involved. Delegates and speakers were also on hand from Iran, Pakistan, India, the Philippines, Canada, Turkey, Poland, Greece, Italy, Spain and France as well as other European countries.
Divided into 4 sessions, all starting perfectly on time, the conference aimed at sharing ideas and experiences in order to plan and organize for the future and to hear direct testimony from Iraqis. One speaker was conspicuously missing; al Sadr representative, Sheik Hassan al Zargani had been denied his visa, twice. Read a press release on the Stop the War Coalition web site.
Things got underway with the first order of business. A resolution was read by Stop the War Chair Andrew Murray demanding the release of all illegally detained prisoners in Afghanistan, Iraq and Guantánamo and called on those holding the 4 CPT hostages to release them unharmed.
Political icon and president of the Stop the War Coalition, Tony Benn, welcomed all. Now in his eighties, Benn said he was too old to protest. He was now demanding! He demanded an end to the war, that there be no attacks on Syria nor Iran and that Bush and Blair be indicted for war crimes.
Lindsey German of Stop the War then read the conference statement, which included 6 major points including organizing worldwide demonstrations on March 18 calling for immediate withdrawal and an end to the occupation and demands for a full investigation into the assault on Fallujah. The statement was voted unanimously. See the full statement.
Iraq, the U.S. and Britain: The Current Situation
The first session focused on where we stand currently and speakers included Phyllis Bennis of the Institute for Policy Studies in Washington who spoke of how the U.S. was slowly catching up to the world in their opposition to the war and the importance of insisting on complete withdrawal from the region as opposed to keeping troops "over the horizon" and Prof. Elaheh Koolaee of the University of Teheran who declared, "this is not a war on terrorism, this is a war on true democratic process."
Iraqi exile and academic Sami Ramadani spoke of the two "big lies" regarding the invasion and occupation of Iraq. The first being the well-known lie about WMDs. The second, the idea that the Iraqi people are divided and that if the occupying forces were to leave, the three main ethnic/religious groups would set about killing each other. He also talked of the silent killers in Iraq rarely mentioned in the media: the use of depleted uranium, the complete neglect of the health system and the lack of water treatment.
An Iraqi human rights activist and member of the Association of Muslim Scholars told of a woman of 26 who had been held for 10 days by the coalition forces. She had been released just the day before and said she had been asked the same two questions for 10 days, "what is your name and what tribe do you belong to?" Her 22-year-old sister was still being detained.
More direct testimony was provided by Sheikh al Khalisi from the Iraqi Foundation Congress who talked of what was for him the biggest lie, that the occupation must continue for the good of the Iraqi people. He expressed his concern for the four CPT hostages and said this could only hurt the cause of the kidnappers. He expressed sympathy to the families of fallen military personnel and understood that most soldiers were from low-income families.
He talked about the money supposedly destined for reconstruction and informed us that yesterday in Baghdad, there had only been 2 hours of electricity. According to Khalisi, the current situation in Iraq in no less worse than under Saddam, and he himself had been imprisoned and tortured under the regime.
He also considered absurd the notion that the Iraqi people would murder each other. "All countries have diversity. Why is it that in Iraq this should lead to genocide?" He talked of Sunnis jumping into the river to save Shiites during the bridge stampede last August and recalled that Iraqis from different religious or ethnic backgrounds had always lived together.
He joined the call for complete immediate withdrawal and noted that what his really country needed were (true) free elections and technocrats for the reconstruction. He concluded by saying that any country should have the legitimate right to defend itself from terrorism. "And occupation is the worst form of terrorism." The crowd responded with a standing ovation.
During the lunch break, members of the student movement met outside for a picnic and to discuss ways to strengthen the involvement of universities and young people. Not a minute was wasted at this conference.
Military Families Campaigns
The afternoon session started off with discussion of the relatively new military family and veterans' campaigns in both the U.S. and the U.K. These were deeply personal accounts. Rose Gentle, mother to Gordon Gentle, a British soldier killed in Iraq, co-founded Military Families Against The War and said this was one group she didn't want to see grow.
Ben Griffin, a conscientious objector from the same group, told us he hadn't volunteered to protect the interests of multinational corporations. And there are more ex British soldiers now working for private companies in Iraq than British military personnel. He urged fellow soldiers to take responsibility for their actions and said, "The excuse of just following orders is unacceptable."
Kelly Dougherty of Iraq Veterans Against the War talked of her epiphany when she was sent to distribute candy to children in an orphanage. She thought of how bombs dropped by her country had rendered these children orphans. She also talked of all the unintentional acts of violence that kill and maim, such innocent people being run over by convoys and contractors. The U.S. organization Iraq Veterans Against the War started a little over 1 year ago with 7 members. It now has over 300.
Dressed in her signature color, Medea Benjamin of Code Pink spoke of recruitment efforts in the U.S. and her organization's campaigns to keep college campuses free of military recruitment. "In a real democracy, no one should have to join the army for a college education." She called on women across the globe to protest the war in front of U.S. Embassies on March 8, 2006, International Women's Day.
Reg Keys of Military Families Against the War gave us an idea of what some families are going through at funerals. In one case, a family had to endure two funerals as their son's body parts arrived on two separate occasions. In another case, a priest halted a funeral when he discovered the casket contained only 2 legs, and they were not from the same person. He recounted the story told him by a group of British soldiers who had helped a man pull his family members from the rubble that was their home before a "smart" bomb found it. Once the bodies were buried, the man took his kalashnikov and started to leave. They asked, "Where are you going?" To which he replied, "I'm heading north to kill the Americans." Keys asked, "What title would you give this man? Terrorist? Insurgent? I'd call him a dehumanized human being."
The next speaker needed no introduction. Cindy Sheehan of Gold Star Families for Peace told us, "There is no more important job than to work for peace. There is no more important job than to bring Bush and Blair to justice." She wished Rose Gentle good luck with her legal case against the British government. She said, "I can't sue my government, but if I could, I'd sue them for every penny they don't have!" She also had a letter she'd written for Blair, which she asked all 1400 of us to sign. And many of us did during the break for afternoon tea.
Bringing Bush and Blair to Account
Writer and activist Tariq Ali started off the next session on bringing Bush and Blair to account. He talked about the importance of the anti-war movement, but that it only exists because the Iraqi people fought back and did not accept occupation. In fact, the failed occupation, according to Ali, is what is driving the U.S. and British forces to divide the country into parcels by dividing the Iraqi people. He also firmly believes that Syria and Iran are in no danger for the simple fact that the U.K. and the U.S. are currently stretched so thin with Iraq that they have no resources, human or economic, to take on another war.
Next we heard from Hassan Juma, president of the Southern Oil Workers Union who called for the expulsion of Halliburton, KBR and others. "If anyone knows the real reasons behind the war, it is the Iraqi oil workers." He listed the demands of his union, which included prohibiting privatization of the oil industry, support for the Iraqi resistance and cancellation of all debts incurred under the regime of Saddam Hussein.
We then heard from a couple of Americans. Ann Wright talked about the importance of government workers speaking out. And she should know. She was a colonel in the Army and a high-ranking official in the State Department when she resigned in March 2003 in protest of the planned invasion of Iraq. She also invited everyone to go down to Parliament Square in protest of the British law prohibiting demonstrations within 1Km of Parliament. "They can't arrest all 1500 of us."
David Swanson, whose name might not be familiar but his web site, AfterDowningStreet.org, certainly should be, spoke of the new political action committee, ImpeachPac, aimed at raising funds for candidates who support impeachment of Bush and Cheney. He also talked of the importance in exposing lies to end the war and explained how the community of bloggers at AfterDowningStreet put pressure on the U.S media and congress regarding the Downing Street memo.
It was interesting to learn from John Rees of Stop the War that also in the U.K. just as in Italy, any actions against the war are tagged as anti-American. "Not after today!" he exclaimed. He expressed the need for solidarity with the U.S. movement. "We've got to defeat Robin, but they're up against Batman." He reminded everyone that it was the people of the United States that rose up to end British occupation and that it will again be the people to end the occupation of Iraq. "The only reason there is talk of an exit strategy is because of the anti-war movement. But we go beyond that. We are about total withdrawal."
Holding a photo of Condoleezza Rice, Hanna Abrahim of Woman's Will, a woman's organization in Iraq, said, "This person is not the same gender as I. This is a woman of death. I am a woman of life." She talked of the absurd strategy of the coalition forces to arrest women of a village to get at the men. "This only leads more men to join the resistance."
Billy Hayes of the British Communications Workers Union asked everyone to remember that when they say Iraq will fall into chaos if the occupation were to end, the same was said about India.
Mr. No Nonsense, at least that is what I like to call him, Walter Wolfgang, received a standing ovation before ever opening his mouth. At the age of 82, after 57 years in the Labour Party, he was physically removed from a Labour Conference last September for shouting "Nonsense" at Jack Straw's comment "We are in Iraq for one reason only: to help the elected Iraqi government build a secure, democratic and stable nation." Regarding the occupation, he remarked, "If your house is burglarized and you need to redecorate, you certainly don't call in the thieves to do the work."
Building an International Movement
The final session focused on building an international movement. Herbert Docena from Focus on the Global South said, "I don't know you, but I've seen you. We watched you march on TV from the Philippines and it lifted us up. Don't stop marching." He did have some criticism for the movement, saying there should be stronger ties with the Iraqi people and they should be in the front lines.
More testimony from the U.S movement was provided by Judith LeBlanc of United for Peace and Justice, an umbrella group that has grown to 1400 organizations since forming in 2002. As a Native American, she talked of the high price paid by minorities in this war and UFPJs efforts in counter recruitment.
Questions were raised by the next speakers. "How can a democracy refuse the visa of a man invited to speak at a conference?" asked Sabah Jawad of Iraqi Democrats Against Occupation, referring to the denied visa for the al Sadr representative. Dr. Tamimi of the Muslim Association of Britain asked, "What peace? The U.S. certainly wants peace in Iraq. Israel wants peace in Iraq. But what kind of peace?" And MP Jeremy Corbyn asked, "Who can be of help to the CPT hostages? The war-mongers or the anti-war movement?"
The final speaker was someone obviously well known in the U.K., but who had also made quite a name for himself recently in the U.S., George Galloway MP. "Today London declared peace on the world."
The conference was a huge success. As a U.S. citizen living abroad it was a great opportunity to meet and hear from members of the U.S. peace and justice movement. Though many of the activists have been around for some time, it is also a very young movement, with many groups forming just before or since the invasion of Iraq.
It was also an opportunity to learn more about the anti-war movement in the U.K., which boasts many historic leaders and seemed to be quite well organized. They also have strong ties with the Muslim society, which helped with contacts for the conference giving us all the opportunity to hear first hand testimony from the Iraqi people as well as U.K. residents who have family members in Guantánamo.
After ten full hours, the hall was just as full at 8pm as it had been all day. Most if not all speakers remained for the entire conference. This wasn't about popping in, having your say and moving on. There was a genuine interest in exchanging ideas and working together for the future. It was energizing and empowering.
As John Rees said, the movement is made up completely of volunteers who dedicate their spare time because it is simply the right thing to do. So let's unite in our struggle against Batman and Robin, and the Joker, Berlusconi.
Also participate in the CodePink email and/or phone initiative:
"Today London declared peace on the world" "We've got to defeat Robin, but they're up against Batman." "All countries have diversity. Why is it that in Iraq this should lead to genocide?" "The excuse of just following orders is unacceptable." "I don't know you, but I've seen you. We watched you march on TV from the Philippines and it lifted us up." "If your house is burglarized and you need to redecorate, you certainly don't call in the thieves to do the work." "In a real democracy, no one should have to join the army for a college education." "I can't sue my government, but if I could, I'd sue them for every penny they don't have!" "If anyone knows the real reasons behind the war, it is the Iraqi oil workers."
Also participate in the CodePink email and/or phone initiative:
"Today London declared peace on the world"
"We've got to defeat Robin, but they're up against Batman."
"All countries have diversity. Why is it that in Iraq this should lead to genocide?"
"The excuse of just following orders is unacceptable."
"I don't know you, but I've seen you. We watched you march on TV from the Philippines and it lifted us up."
"If your house is burglarized and you need to redecorate, you certainly don't call in the thieves to do the work."
"In a real democracy, no one should have to join the army for a college education."
"I can't sue my government, but if I could, I'd sue them for every penny they don't have!"
"If anyone knows the real reasons behind the war, it is the Iraqi oil workers."
Copyright © 2005 Stephanie Westbrook All rights reserved.
U.S. Citizens for Peace & Justice - Rome, Italy