Middle East Council of Churches

Unofficial news from the Middle Eastern Christian Ecumenical organization.

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Saturday, April 12, 2003
Catholic News Services: Iraqi church official says he hopes country's leaders chosen by merit
ROME (CNS) -- A top Iraqi church official said he hoped post-war Iraq's new political leaders would be chosen according to their merits and not their closeness to the interests of coalition countries. Father Philip Najim, the Rome-based representative of the Chaldean-rite Baghdad Patriarchate, also expressed dismay at the failure of coalition forces to stop widespread looting, even in important archeological sites, after the collapse of the regime. In an interview published April 11 in the Italian Catholic newspaper Avvenire, the priest said Iraq's political future was uncertain after the apparent fall of Iraqi President Saddam Hussein, who "did not represent Iraq" because he "took power with a revolution, not elections." He said, "If the promises of the (coalition) victors to install a new Iraqi administration soon are kept, we hope that it involves people chosen according to criteria of transparency and not of closeness to Anglo-American interests."

posted by Tom at 10:43 AM

UNHCR: Up to 30,000 Iraqis gather near border with Iran
MEHRAN, Iran, April 10 (UNHCR) – Up to 30,000 displaced Iraqis have reportedly gathered in an Iraqi border town near western Iran, where they have received assistance but expressed no immediate plans to cross into Iran.

Responding to reports of the recent arrivals in Badrah, eastern Iraq, a UNHCR team on Thursday went to the Iranian border town of Mehran, 16 km from Badrah, and met with representatives of the displaced Iraqis.

The Iraqis said they had fled Baghdad and Nasiriya earlier this week and simply wanted to stay with relatives and friends in the area. Others had already been in Badrah for more than three weeks; some had even started returning to Baghdad after it came under coalition control.

posted by Tom at 10:39 AM

Church World Service (via Reuters AlertNet): Shipment of Medical Supplies Crosses Jordan-Iraq Border:
A third shipment of supplies bound for pediatric hospitals in Iraq, funded by Church World Service and the multi-U.S. agency initiative "All Our Children" (AOC), left Jordan this morning and has crossed into Iraq, reports Steve Weaver. Weaver is a CWS International Disaster Response Consultant and Jordan-based coordinator of the All Our Children initiative.

The shipment is in one of three trucks that are part of a convoy of goods to be distributed in Baghdad by the non-governmental French humanitarian organization Première Urgence (PU). From Amman, Weaver is monitoring the shipment's progress and reported that as of this morning (Eastern U.S. time), the trucks were near the Iraqi city of Ramadi.

posted by Tom at 10:37 AM

Mennonite Central Committee: In Iraq MCC faces prospect of having to deliver aid with help of military by Edward Miller
AMMAN, Jordan ­ As Mennonite Central Committee (MCC) prepares to implement aid programs in Iraq, MCC staff are increasingly concerned about the involvement of the U.S. and British military in providing humanitarian aid.

MCC is committed to helping the most vulnerable people in a disaster, and to working with people on all sides of a conflict. In a war situation involving occupying forces, however, such a task is difficult. Scenes of American and British troops handing out food aid and the uncertainty of who will govern Iraq in the near future are also raising concerns for humanitarian aid groups.

"Our concern relates to how we can be seen as an impartial agency not tied to any military or political agenda," said Willie Reimer, director of MCC's Food, Disaster and Material Resources office. This concern, shared by many other humanitarian aid organizations, is felt especially keenly by MCC, a faith-based, fundamentally pacifist organization.


For MCC, the question is how best to deliver aid to those in need. "In the civil war in Sudan, MCC partners had a policy that they would not distribute food if either government soldiers or rebel soldiers were present," said Reimer.

In Iraq, a similar stance will be taken by many aid organizations, but analysts say it may be wishful thinking. Does this mean humanitarian groups like MCC will have to rely on military forces to provide aid to Iraq?

"If at all possible, we try to avoid being associated with anything to do with the military," said Reimer. "Only if vulnerable people will otherwise not receive any food or water would MCC utilize such methods."

posted by Tom at 10:33 AM

ICRC: Iraq: ICRC calls urgently for protection of the civilian population and services and of persons no longer fighting:
Geneva (ICRC) – The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) is profoundly alarmed by the chaos currently prevailing in Baghdad and other parts of Iraq. Lawless persons, sometimes armed, have been ransacking and looting even essential public facilities such as hospitals and water-supply installations.

Hospitals in Baghdad are closed because of combat damage, looting or fear of looting. Hardly any medical or support staff are still reporting for work. Patients have either fled the hospitals or have been left without care. The medical system in Baghdad has virtually collapsed. The dead are left unattended, and the increasing summer heat and deteriorating water and electricity supplies create a high risk of epidemic disease.

The ICRC urgently appeals to the Coalition forces and all other persons in authority to do everything possible to protect essential infrastructure such as hospitals and water-supply and evacuation systems from looting and destruction. In areas under their control, the Coalition forces have specific responsibilities as Occupying Powers under international humanitarian law. These include taking all measures in their power to restore and maintain, as far as possible, public order and safety by putting a halt to pillage and to violence against civilians and civilian facilities.

Civilian facilities which have been damaged or destroyed must be repaired as soon as possible, in order to ensure that the basic needs of the population can be met. Water and electricity supplies are vital. Medical units and personnel must be protected and their work facilitated, and access to them by all persons in need, whether military or civilian, friend or foe, must be granted. In all circumstances, the Red Cross and Red Crescent emblem must be respected.

posted by Tom at 10:28 AM

americancatholic.org: The Middle East Peace Process: Patriarch Michel Sabbah's View by Renée Schafer:
THIRTEEN YEARS AGO, from the pages of this magazine, Latin Patriarch Michel Sabbah issued a plea to U.S. Catholics concerning the plight of Holy Land Christians: "Please hurry. Our fate is here and the solution to our problem is in the United States. If the United States decides to solve the problem, it will be solved. If it does not decide, it will not be solved."

Precious little has changed in the ensuing years, although there have been intermittent peace negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians. The Holy Land remains, for many, a place of nightmares, a world of two peoples drowning in an undertow created by the circular nature of their accusations against each other.

posted by Tom at 10:23 AM

Friday, April 11, 2003
UNHCR: UNHCR warns that chaos in Iraq could cause more displacement
AMMAN, Jordan (UNHCR) – The UN refugee agency has warned that the fall of Saddam Hussein's regime in Baghdad and the collapse of police authority could result in revenge attacks and ethnic violence that could drive Iraqis from their homes.

"Iraq's internal situation is volatile, as growing chaos and the ongoing war bring new dangers to the civilian population," said UNHCR spokesman Peter Kessler at a press briefing in Amman, Jordan, on Thursday. "Looting and lawlessness appear to be rampant in many areas of Iraq, and the current security vacuum and uncertainty is prompting some people to flee."

He urged, "There is an immediate need for the occupying forces to maintain law and order and to ensure that people who need humanitarian aid have access to such assistance. It is also vital that anyone who feels unsafe be able to reach neighbouring countries."

Between Wednesday and Thursday, more than 100 Iraqis and other third country nationals crossed into Syria at the Al Tanf border. They included 27 Palestinians, 24 Sudanese, and some 50 persons from mixed marriages. Most were moved to the Al Tanf transit centre.

posted by Tom at 11:53 AM

ReliefWeb: Iraq crisis: World Vision ready with support as sandstorm lashes camp
Jordan - A fierce sandstorm lashed the Jordanian Red Crescent camp at Al-Ruwashid in northern Jordan, which is supported by JECRaD and World Vision. The storm blew down the administration tent, health clinic, a children's school room and damaged the camp kitchen.

The camp has processed 775 people who have fled from Iraq since commencement of hostilities. Of the 775 'third country nationals' who have entered the camp, 553 have returned home or to secondary countries.

The remaining 222 camp 'residents' consist mainly of Somalis, Sudanese and Moroccans, of which 55 are children.

A Red Crescent volunteer said today the storm represented another blow to camp residents who were already hit by soaring temperatures.

"It's gone from freezing to a hell of a heat. It's hard to imagine what it's going to be like in a few more weeks when it gets even hotter," she said.

posted by Tom at 11:50 AM

Catholic News Service: West Bank Christian TV station provides coverage for whole community, by Judith Sudilovsky:
BEIT SAHOUR, West Bank (CNS) -- As the owner, founder and director of the only locally owned Christian television station in the Middle East, Samir Qumsieh knows he carries a big responsibility on his shoulders.

Not only does he have to prove that such an "experiment" -- as he calls it -- is feasible as an independent and unbiased news station, but also that it can provide programming for Christians without ostracizing the larger Muslim society.

In the Arab world, privately-owned media are a rare commodity, let alone a privately-owned media outlet with a commitment to Christian broadcasting.

"God selected me for this mission. We are the only voice of Christianity coming out of the Middle East," said Qumsieh, 53, a Greek Orthodox who serves as the counselor of interreligious affairs for the Catholic Church's Latin Patriarchate of Jerusalem.

While all Christian religious holidays and special events receive coverage from Al-Mahed -- or Nativity -- Television, the station also airs Friday Muslim worship services, a special Ramadan program and popular films.

"Even devout Christians would stop watching us if all we aired was religious programming," said Qumsieh's sister, Norma Qumsieh, 50, who works at the station.

posted by Tom at 11:48 AM

Thursday, April 10, 2003
BBC News: Looters Ransack Baghdad Hospitals:
The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) says two key Baghdad hospitals, and many other smaller ones, have been ransacked, as looting spreads across the capital.

ICRC spokeswoman Nada Doumani told BBC News Online that armed looters had stripped the al-Kindi, a key hospital in north-eastern Baghdad, of everything, including beds, electrical fittings and medical equipment.

She said another major hospital, the 650-bed Medical City, was also surrounded by armed men and was running low of water and medical supplies.

Baghdad's hospitals have already been under severe strain in recent days as they try to cope with the casualties caused by the coalition's aerial bombardments of the capital, as well as fighting on the ground.

posted by Tom at 10:28 PM

Permalinked: Reuters AlertNet: from the field: Iraq
posted by Tom at 6:30 PM

Reuters AlertNet:
  • Christian Aid and evangelism in Iraq: Christian Aid's mandate is to work to address poverty, injustice and the denial of rights, and to help those whose need is greatest, whatever their race or faith. We certainly do not exist to help only Christians or to promote conversions to Christianity.

    Although some of our work is implemented by Christian or church-based partner organisations that share our objectives, we do not support the churches in areas such as pastoral work, evangelism and the building of churches.

    Christian Aid has been concerned about reports that some US Christian agencies intend to use their humanitarian work in Iraq as an opportunity for proselytising. Although Christian Aid's work is inspired by the teachings of the Gospel, we are signatories to international codes of conduct which require us to ensure that the delivery of humanitarian aid is undertaken entirely separately from political, religious or military activities. These are core principles to which we are willing signatories.

  • Christian Aid: Palestinian Christians talk about war in Iraq
  • United Methodist Committee On Relief Plans for Iraq Relief Assistance

posted by Tom at 6:28 PM

Action by Churches Together: ACT member Norwegian Church Aid supplies water to hospital in Umm Qasr, Iraq (quoted in full)

Geneva, April 10, 2003

Speaking via satellite phone from Umm Qasr, Norwegian Church Aid's (NCA) Tor Valla reported this morning that they were in the process of installing a water system at the local hospital.

Valla, the team leader of NCA/ACT's water team, said that they had already tested the system once this morning and that it was working. "We're hoping that it will be completely installed by this afternoon," he said.

NCA - a member of the global alliance Action by Churches Together (ACT) International, had been working in the field of water and sanitation in Iraq before the war started.

Their next stop is Basra, according to Valla, who is accompanied by two other NCA/ACT water engineers/coordinators, Avre Danielsen and Anders Haland. The NCA/ACT water project was put on hold in Basra earlier this week due to security concerns and the general looting that was going on. "But the 10 trucks in Basra and the four in Umm Qasr are not enough and not meeting the minimum requirements of water supplies," Valla said. "We need to expand the water project and are hoping to have an extra 100 water trucks brought in from Kuwait this weekend."

The NCA /ACT team is working under the umbrella of an overall UNICEF project in southern Iraq. The team has also established contact with local council members in Umm Qasr and is working closely with them. The council is responsible for coordinating and mobilizing local residents in volunteer activities.

Meanwhile preparations are well under way by ACT member DanChurchAid's (DCA) de-mining team to go to Iraq. Five fully equipped de-mining vehicles are to be shipped to Kuwait this weekend for later transport to Iraq. The 4-wheel drive vehicles are equipped with explosive ordinance disposal and other de-mining equipment.

posted by Tom at 5:34 PM

Official Site: MECC Update - April 10 by Samuel Rizk:
The turn of events yesterday (April 9, 2003) in Iraq, and especially in Baghdad, has prompted different reactions around the region and globally. Not many people are quite sure about what is happening with the sudden collapse of the Iraqi government structure and the ensuing images of jubilation by the people of Iraq. As far the Middle East Council of Churches in concerned, we are still cautiously anticipating what will happen in the days to come, and we will respond appropriately to humanitarian needs that continue to be an issue despite reports that ‘war has ended’.

The need remains great inside the country as well as for Iraqis in neighboring countries. MECC response to needy Iraqi families and individuals in Syria and Lebanon is currently in progress and has not been altered by the developments of yesterday. While we are currently working to formulate the future strategy of work in light of these developments, the following points must be noted:

  • Over the past 24 hours, we have not heard from Edward Isho about the situation in Iraq, keeping in mind that he in Mosul. We hope to have such contact as soon as possible, and continue to urge our partners and friends to pray for his safety at this time of confusion.
  • Our information is that a good number of journalists crossed the border into Iraq through Jordan late yesterday. There is no indication that there are Iraqi authorities on the Iraqi side of the border. The same is true for Syria. However, it will take few hours to confirm this, as well as confirm the ease/difficulty by which crossing into Iraq through Jordan and Syria is feasible.
  • ACT Regional Coordination meeting is taking place in Amman as this briefing is being drafted and we are certain that there will be discussions of future strategies of work in Iraq and outside. The outcome of this meeting will be circulated as soon as possible
  • On the part of MECC, we are ready to send staff people immediately into Iraq to assess the situation inside with a focus on the needs of the population, the status of our distribution centers and contact people, the status of the churches, and the means by which we can respond to those needs taking into consideration the practical arrangements of such response (security, roads, coordination, etc…)
  • The flow of Iraqis into Syria actually increased over the past 48 hours.

  • posted by Tom at 5:11 PM

    Official MECC Site: Update on work in Syria:

    Of particular interest are the last two items:

    • The MECC staff is facilitating the entries of two trucks coming from Greece (Doctors for the World) as a donation from the Greek people to the Iraqi people. The 2 trucks will go as transit through Syria to Iraq. The trucks are loaded with food, water, and medicine. The trucks arrived the Syrian borders on the 7th of April and transit arrangements are made to ship them to Iraq.
    • Two companies in Aleppo owned by Muslims donated to MECC the following items to help in relief: (1000) Cartoon boxes for food packaging (size 60x40x30) with amount of US$ 700, and (15) blankets with its shipment to North-East Syria in the amount of US$ 500.

    posted by Tom at 10:33 AM

    Los Angeles Times: Bundling of Aid, Christianity Stirs Concerns by Johanna Neuman, Times Staff Writer (registration required):
    WASHINGTON -- As soon as the war ends, Christian evangelical groups are poised to go into Iraq with offers of food, medicine, blankets -- and testimony about their religious beliefs.

    The prospect of evangelicals moving into a country where 97% of the population is Muslim could complicate an already dicey reconstruction effort, intensifying feelings in the Arab world that the United States is waging a war not on terrorism but on Islam.

    "We are entering a period where there are two big exclusionist, monotheistic faiths -- Christianity and Islam," said James Hudnut-Beumler, dean of the divinity school at Vanderbilt University in Nashville. "The way in which people from the Christian West, in the midst of the conflict or its aftermath, engage Muslims will have long repercussions for the shape of that conflict and for postwar reconstruction in Iraq."


    But other Christian relief organizations worry that the evangelicals will taint their work, turning the instinct to reach out in a humanitarian way into more fodder for a clash between two of the world's dominant religions.

    "Combining assistance with proselytizing only increases suspicion in the Muslim world that this war is part of a crusade against Islam. It's very destructive," said Rick Augsburger, director of emergency programs for the New York-based National Council of Churches' charity arm, Church World Service, which has launched a $1-million fund-raising campaign for pediatric services in Iraq.

    It's worth noting that the majority of Middle Eastern Protestant Churches are known as "Evangelical" (injili) churches, despite being much closer in outlook, ecumenical relations and theology to American mainline Protestants. This has caused a great deal of confusion and disruption in places targetted by American Evangelicals for proselytizing efforts.
    News report via the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life.
    posted by Tom at 10:10 AM

    ICRC: General Report on Iraq, April 9

    Not much strictly new in this report, but it's an excellent general overview of the situation, especially in Baghdad and Basra, from an agency that has been there throughout the conflict.

    posted by Tom at 9:57 AM

    Refugees International: Iraq: Lack of security creating serious humanitarian situation
    Despite the coalition military's gains on the battlefield, insecurity plagues Iraqi civilians. The lack of order in areas under effective coalition control, such as the city of Basra, has created an anarchic situation in which the population cannot access basic services, especially clean water and health care. In Baghdad, the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) and Medicins sans Frontieres, the two agencies that courageously remained in the city to support the city's hospitals and to treat wounded civilians, have suspended operations because, in the words of ICRC, the situation is "chaotic and unpredictable." ICRC is presently unable to access wounded civilians and the delay in reaching these casualties is likely to prove fatal.

    British commanders in Basra have readily acknowledged that for the time being they have no intention of stopping the looting, seeing the destruction of government property, including schools, as a popular venting of anti-Saddam energy. U.S. soldiers in Baghdad have been deployed to topple statues of Saddam Hussein rather than provide protection to civilians who need medical care. The coalition doctrine stressing force protection above all is leading to de facto disregard for the consequences of disorder and violence for Iraqi civilians. As UNICEF's Iraq Representative, Carel de Rooy, argues, failing to establish basic order threatens government services and systems with collapse. The humanitarian community is counting on these systems to feed, vaccinate, and educate the Iraqi people once order is restored. Further, looted property includes valuable infrastructure that the U.S. and its allies will have to replace if a functioning Iraqi government administration is to be re-established.

    It is imperative for the United States and Great Britain to establish basic order so that life-saving humanitarian assistance can be delivered. The irony is that the World Food Program, UNICEF, and the major operational non-government organizations, such as the International Rescue Committee and Oxfam, are poised to provide assistance as soon as the security situation permits. Supply and readiness are no longer the issues. The paramount issue is local-level security.

    posted by Tom at 9:49 AM

    ICRC: Iraq: Delegate's death confirmed
    Geneva (ICRC) - The body of Vatche Arslanian, a delegate of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) who had been unaccounted for since 8 April in the afternoon, was recovered today in Baghdad by his colleagues and brought to Ibn Nafis hospital.

    According to information that the ICRC in Baghdad was able to gather on the circumstances of Mr Arslanian's death, two vehicles in which he and other ICRC staff members were travelling were caught in crossfire. Mr Arslanian died instantly. A total of 13 people are reported to have been killed in the same incident, which involved five other cars.

    The ICRC and its staff are deeply distressed by the loss of their friend and colleague. The International Committee extends its heartfelt sympathy to Mr Arslanian's family.

    Balthasar Staehelin, the ICRC's Delegate-General for the Middle East and North Africa, said "the courageous decision by six ICRC expatriates to stay in Baghdad voluntarily during the worst of the fighting made a marked difference to the lives of thousands of people. Mr Arslanian was one of those six and we can find some solace in knowing that he helped to make that difference".

    The ICRC team in Baghdad will hold a day of mourning on Thursday 10 April.

    The ICRC will assess the situation in Baghdad with a view to deciding its future course of action. In the meantime, ICRC staff based in Arbil and Basra are pursuing their humanitarian activities.

    posted by Tom at 9:38 AM

    Action by Churches Together: ACT member Norwegian Church Aid delivers water in Umm Qasr
    Umm Qasr/Oslo, April 9, 2003

    Three water engineers from Norwegian Church Aid (NCA) are well under way with preparations to deliver water to the local population in the southern part of Iraq.

    "We are expecting to establish four water stations soon in Umm Qasr," said NCA's water coordinator Arve Danielsen to the Norwegian Telegram Bureau (NTB) during a telephone interview. Danielsen is based in the southern Iraq city of Umm Qasr.

    Danielsen said that the water pipeline that was put in place recently to bring water from Kuwait to the south of Iraq was not working. This was a problem as about 44,000 local people had been without water for at least 24 hours.


    The three NCA water coordinators are hoping to eventually go to Basra where the humanitarian needs are great. It is however not safe at the moment and while waiting to travel there, they are concentrating on helping elsewhere.

    According to the team, the sanitary conditions are quite terrible and a lack of clean water is a problem at the local hospital in Umm Qasr, and they are exploring the possibility of helping out there. Arve Danielsen is reported as saying that it seems that the people in and around Umm Qasr have enough food for the time being, but that there is a general lack of water and medical equipment.

    posted by Tom at 9:34 AM

    Catholic News Services: Iraqi archbishop receives U.S. souvenir in form of missile fragment
    ROME (CNS) -- The Chaldean Catholic archbishop of Basra, Iraq, is showing journalists "the gift I have received from Bush." Archbishop Djibrail Kassab has put a label -- "April 3, 2:30 a.m." -- on his piece of U.S. shrapnel. "I was in my bed with the windows opened out in case the glass shattered," he told the Italian newspaper La Repubblica. U.S.-led forces "bombed offices of the Foreign Ministry about 30 yards away," he said. "This is the fragment of an American missile that landed at the foot of my bed." The archbishop said he was not hurt. He said Basra, with its tiny Christian minority, always has been a city marked by religious tolerance. "In these days of terror, Christians and Muslims have drawn even closer to each other. We were under the same bombs," he said in the interview published April 9.

    Archbishop Kassab is also quoted in this article in the Washington Post.
    posted by Tom at 9:30 AM

    Wednesday, April 09, 2003
    Official Site: Aid Shipment Arrives in Mosul by Razek Syriani.

    The same shipment as reported below by Action by Churches Together, but this report includes a detailed breakdown of what was in the shipment, so if you're curious about exactly what goes into one of those things, go ahead and click on the link
    posted by Tom at 5:56 PM

    Christian Aid: Iraq Emergency Update:
    Christian Aid's partners in northern Iraq report that people from the government-controlled areas of Kirkuk, Mosul and Baghdad are still taking refuge from the war in the Kurdish controlled areas, despite cold weather and fuel shortages.

    In south and central Iraq, disruption to water supplies is placing communities at risk of disease, and electricity blackouts are interfering with water purification and distribution. The blackouts are also affecting hospitals, which are already struggling to cope with large numbers of casualties without adequate supplies of medicines or equipment.

    Fears of an imminent food crisis remain, despite the partial resumption of the Oil for Food programme in northern Iraq. Many communities, particularly in the south and centre of Iraq, remain inaccessible to aid agencies because of the fighting, and although food is still available at local markets, stocks are dwindling and prices are out of most people's reach. Household food supplies could run out by Easter or even sooner, and shortages of fresh foods and foods rich in protein threaten to worsen malnutrition, which is already rife.

    Although the war is not yet over, it is clear that one of its legacies will be extremely large and dense minefields laid by Iraqi forces, particularly in areas near the border between government-controlled areas and Kurdish northern Iraq. These and other unexploded ordnance will pose a risk to civilians and their grazing animals until they are cleared. The use of cluster bombs by coalition forces is another concern, because they kill or injure indiscriminately and their contents often do not explode immediately and thus pose a long-term risk.

    posted by Tom at 4:23 PM

    Daily Star (Lebanon): Remembering and resisting: Deir Yassin and the Jewish future by Marc Ellis:
    So often memory becomes a blunt instrument used to avenge a hurt remembered. Can it also be a way of embrace, a way of overcoming, a way of receiving and extending the possibility of hope, even, and especially, when the path forward is clouded with the continuing cycle of violence and atrocity?

    Can memory become a path of forgiveness, a forgiveness that does not forget, does not excuse and does not bury the memory of hurt and violation, but one which insists on a justice that is compassionate and discerning? It is here that forgiveness may leave its piety and become revolutionary. Like memory, the experience of revolutionary forgiveness is personal and collective. It represents a healing of the interior, of the landscape of individuals and a people.

    Today Palestinian and Israeli scholars alike acknowledge that something terrible happened to the Palestinians in 1948. And more than a few Jews recognize that something terrible is happening to Palestinians today. Why then is this the province of the few rather than a collective awakening? And why does this vanguard of Jews, Jews of conscience, many of them who relate to Palestinians as brothers and sisters in struggle, exist in exile from the Jewish community rather than form its core, its foundational outreach to the world, as a witness to our history of trauma and our own desire to be healed and live in justice and peace?

    Why do we as a people not recognize Deir Yassin as foundational to Jewish life? For without this recognition our future will be consigned to the category of empires that once persecuted us as Jews. Why is Jewish leadership in the political, religious and academic worlds so complicit in this cycle of violence and atrocity against the Palestinian people, by silencing Jewish dissent, by lobbying for policies of power and might, and by denigrating those Palestinians who are struggling for freedom and justice?

    Please go read the whole thing. (Warning: Daily Star links expire pretty quickly.)
    posted by Tom at 4:09 PM

    ReliefWeb: Umm Qasr battles water crisis, by Frank Zeller, Deutsche Presse Agentur:
    Umm Qasr (dpa) - Along the dusty streets of this Iraqi border town, people stand waiting with empty water containers clutched in their hands.

    For three weeks, since the Iraq war began and severed the water supply from Basra, the life-giving fluid has been in desperately short supply here.

    "Mister, mister! Water, water!'' scruffy children yelled Tuesday as they ran alongside media cars and military convoys rumbling through town from Kuwait.

    British forces, in their declared battle to win Iraqi hearts and minds, have repeatedly distributed water bottles in Basra province in recent weeks. Kuwait, the oil-rich emirate next door, has extended a water pipeline across the fenced no man's land that was until recently a U.N.-patrolled demilitarized zone.

    But distribution problems have created a new bottleneck in getting water to Umm Qasr, a port town of 40,000 people, residents and a Kuwaiti government official said. While British forces pay four Iraqi water truck operators to distribute the water every day, the drivers in turn also charge the townspeople money. Filling a five-litre container costs 1,000 Iraqi dinar, about 3 U.S. dollars, said the Kuwaiti official - a crippling amount for most people living in this litter-strewn desert town.

    posted by Tom at 11:34 AM

    Refugees International: Humanitarian Coordination: A job for the United Nations:
    The Humanitarian Operations Center (HOC) in Kuwait was established about two months ago and is staffed by Kuwaiti government officials and U.S. and UK military officers. The objective of the HOC is to facilitate humanitarian aid to the people of Iraq, especially in southern Iraq adjacent to Kuwait.

    The HOC in Kuwait is a symbol of military dominance in matters relating to Iraq. That dominance is comprehensible in the context of a war, but as a post-Saddam Iraq looms on the horizon, many UN agencies and relief workers fear that Iraq will remain overly subject to the coalition military forces. Representatives of HOC have emphasized that they will "work themselves out of a job," as the UN and civilian relief agencies are gradually able to work in Iraq. The HOC should be held to that promise.


    Refugees International, therefore, recommends that:

    • The HOC be abolished as UNOCHA can take over the function of facilitating and coordinating humanitarian aid. Relations between coalition military forces and the UN can be handled through liaison officers as has been done in many other humanitarian emergencies.
    • Donors contribute immediately to the UN's $2.2 billion appeal for humanitarian aid to Iraq and support the position that the UN is the best organization for leadership and coordination of humanitarian aid and the reconstruction of post-Saddam Iraq.
    • Having initiated war without explicit Security Council authorization, the U.S. take the initiative to begin a dialogue with the UN at the highest levels to clarify the relationships of the institutions of the occupying powers and the UN agencies in post-Saddam Iraq.

    posted by Tom at 11:30 AM

    From Samer Laham in Damascus: an update on church assistance to Iraqi refugees:

    Service by the churches of Syria to Iraqi refugees in Damascus & its surroundings continues. Antiochine Orthodox priests and women's fellowships have been registering families in need of assistance. 74 families have been registered, numbering 219 members. The responsible committee expects more applications in the days to come.

    MECC associate General Secretary Samer Laham has updated the General Secretary of MECC, Rev. Dr. Riad Jarjour, on the situation of Iraqi families. Rev. Jarjour has instructed the MECC office in Damascus to prepare 150 boxes of food to be distributed to needy Iraqi families. The boxes were prepared by volunteers from many Orthodox fellowships. The priests will coordinate distribution of MECC support to Iraqi families.

    The Greek Orthodox Patriarchate has provided some food items as a modest contribution to MECC.

    posted by Tom at 11:21 AM

    ICRC: Daily bulletin, April 8:
    BAGHDAD (update of 8 April)

    The situation in the city is extremely critical, with heavy fighting taking place in central areas. Hospitals are reported to be overwhelmed by the inflow of war-wounded patients.

    The ICRC delivered surgical assistance to the Medical City hospital complex (650 beds). The complex has neither water nor power, and only 6 out of 27 operating theatres could still be used. ICRC engineers are trying to restore the water supply.

    The ICRC also visited the Ibn Nafis hospital, where it saw three injured foreign journalists who were being treated there.

    The water supply for Baghdad is becoming an issue of major concern following reports that the Qanat raw water pumping station in the north of the city has stopped functioning.

    posted by Tom at 1:44 AM

    Action by Churches Together:Relief Shipment Arrives Safely in Northern Iraq
    Syria/Jordan, April 8, 2003

    A truckload of relief items sent ot Mosul in Iraq by the Middle East Council of Churches MECC yesterday has arrived safely.

    Red Crescent being painted on a white cloth for the top of the MECC truck to prevent the truck carrying relief items from being bombed by the warring parties - Rainer Lang DEA/ACT International

    The truck was offloaded at the local municipal government offices yesterday by three volunteers from one of the local churches in Mosul. The relief effort by MECC - a member of the global alliance Action by Churches Together (ACT) International, done in cooperation with the Syrian and Iraqi Red Crescent, consisted of 1,500 blankets and canned foods.

    Rainer Lang, a field communicator for ACT International, reports that Edward Esho, the MECC representative in Iraq, is still in Mosul, and will be involved in the distribution of the relief items. Lang said that he had accompanied the director of ACT member Diakonie Emergency Aid (Germany), Hannelore Hensle to the border between Syria and Iraq where they tried to meet with Esho who was on the Iraqi side. "Unfortunately he was not allowed to cross the border, but at least we know he is safe," said Lang. Esho and his family had earlier left Baghdad for Mosul.

    Lang also reported that although the border crossing between the two countries was officially closed, humanitarian relief items were allowed through. The road to Mosul is still open added Lang. "It's good to know that the first official shipment of relief goods from northern Syria into Iraq made it safely and that the driver made it safely back to Syria."

    As the first shipment went through without problems, MECC is planning on sending more relief goods to Iraq. The Iraqi Red Crescent has requested that medicines for those suffering from war related injuries be sent to Mosul. "MECC is hoping to arrange for some medicines to be taken across the border," said Lang.

    posted by Tom at 1:39 AM

    Monday, April 07, 2003
    Catholic News Service: Iraqi archbishop's American brother worries about his safetyby Robert Delaney:
    DETROIT (CNS) -- Figuring war with Iraq was inevitable, Joseph Kassab tried to get his Iraqi brother to come to the United States in January. But his brother said he had to be in Basra with his people.

    "His people" are the Chaldean Catholics of southern Iraq. Joseph Kassab's brother is Archbishop Djibrail (Gabriel) Kassab of Basra.

    As coalition forces stepped up efforts to take control of Basra, Joseph Kassab's worries only increased.

    Kassab was able to reach his brother March 29, and found him unharmed at his residence at St. Ephraim Cathedral in Basra.

    "He said he barely had any food or any good water, and no electricity at all," said Kassab, 52, of the Detroit suburb of Farmington Hills, who is a member of Mother of God Chaldean Parish in nearby Southfield.

    posted by Tom at 7:27 PM

    New York Times: Should Christian Missionaries Heed the Call to Iraq? by Deborah Caldwell (registration required):
    Last week, a missionary writing from Iraq on the International Bible Society's Web site described the scene this way: "I can hear jets flying over the town, and I hear explosions from the distance. There are still a few of us in town. We go out to visit and distribute tracts and the Jesus video. We are busy duplicating the video. We ran out of tracts and we need to print 10,000 more." The Bible society has published a Scripture booklet especially for Iraqi refugees. Christians in the United States are urged to spend 40 cents per booklet to print and ship them to Iraq.


    But some Christian leaders said they worried that the evangelicals' actions would be viewed as a crusade.

    "They identify the American cause with this war as the cause of Christ," said Robert Pyne, a theologian at the conservative Dallas Theological Seminary. He read from a prayer making the rounds among evangelicals: "Let us be sending in `prayer missiles,' `cruise and scud prayers' to target enemy plans. We are praying that the enemy leaders become confused, that their entire system of attack fall apart and that these enemies would become aware of the war Jesus has already fought for them."

    Mr. Pyne, himself an evangelical, said it was the wrong time and place for such "a visible Christian presence." Instead, he said, American Christians might consider ceding control of their aid.

    "We're the ones who think we have to do it, and want to do everything ourselves — those are images of the ugly American," Mr. Pyne said. "We may need to get over that to truly distance ourselves, as Christians, from what is perceived around the world as a national agenda."

    One aspect the Times story doesn't mention is the pressure that will undoubtedly be brought to bear on the indigenous Christian population of Iraq by this kind of aggressive proselytism. It's extremely disheartening (although not at all surprising) to see American evangelicals riding in in the wake of American tanks.
    posted by Tom at 7:08 PM

    New York Times: Food, Too, Can Be a Weapon of War (registration required) by Peter Maass:
    In Iraq, Pentagon officials and Lt. Gen. Jay Garner, a retired army officer who is designated to take charge of the postwar reconstruction, do not wish, as the war still rages, to relinquish control of humanitarian operations. But the military, despite what officials in Washington might say, is not configured for or adept at distributing aid.

    A few days ago, I rode in the back of a Marine Humvee as it passed through several small towns near the city of Kut, 170 miles south of Baghdad. Civilians along the road were holding out packs of cigarettes, hoping to sell them to nicotine-deprived G.I.'s. The captain in the Humvee explained that his marines were under orders not to engage in commerce with civilians, nor toss them cast-offs from their M.R.E.'s, no matter how friendly the civilians might seem. Doing so would mean civilians would get close to their vehicles, and it's impossible to know the difference between a commerce-savvy civilian and a suicide bomber.


    The art of humanitarianism is to provide aid to the people who genuinely need it, and that's usually women, children and the elderly. The Iraqis with the yellow rations were fighting-age men; it's a good bet they were deserters who were given a thank you meal from the civil affairs contingent at the front, just up the road.

    The battalion commander stopped by my S.U.V. recently, and I asked about his unit's humanitarian work. The commander, who is a smart and focused lieutenant colonel, was dispatched to Iraq to kill the bad guys, and he doesn't mind doing so. That's his mission. "Yes, we're giving out humanitarian rations," he told me. "It's kind of the carrot-and-stick approach. No better friend, no better enemy." He does not want to do humanitarian work, he continued. "It's not our job, but we do what is humane and what we can to relieve suffering," he said. "The aid we give out is more of a gesture."
    I asked whether he had talked with Iraqis and perhaps shared a meal to find out their needs. He said his civil affairs unit handles those things. He doesn't have time for kebabs. "I don't like eating goat," he said and smiled.

    Link via Body and Soul.
    posted by Tom at 6:27 PM

    Sunday, April 06, 2003
    ReliefWeb: UN Briefing for April 6 2003:

    Many updates, but of especial interest is the World Health Organization:

    WHO expects a severe deterioration of the health situation during the days to come due to daily bombardment that results in damage of infrastructure and sharp rise in civilian casualties. Many cities in the south and centre are virtually under siege and Baghdad is gradually being isolated.

    The situation is having a big impact on the whole population, especially on the chronically ill. In Iraq, more than 600 000 have diabetics and 10% of them are believed to be insulin-dependant. Access to health care and drugs is getting increasingly difficult as stocks currently can not be replenished. The health workers are overwhelmed by injured and routine work is disrupted. People who need long-term treatment or a hospital admission won't be able to get the care they need. Even if the information is scarce, it seems that some medicines are missing such as analgesics, antibiotics, surgical items, anaesthetic drugs and insulin.

    There is also a great risk of epidemic outbreaks due to the breakdown of water and sanitation infrastructure. In the longer term, disruption of surveillance for monitoring diseases, breakdown of public health programs, damage to health facilities, and malfunction of water and sanitation systems will lead to increased levels of illness, and higher death rates. The incidence of acute lower respiratory infections, diarrhoea and vaccine-preventable infections will increase.

    WHO is also worried about the long-term consequences of burned and seriously injured people. If these people don't receive specialized care they risk suffering from serious long-terms infections that might lead to amputations, disability and death.

    Also on ReliefWeb:

    posted by Tom at 10:53 PM