Kate Raphael | February 6, 2004
Our trip back to Amman on Tuesday was blissfully uneventful. We take with us many stories and emotions from the experience of Iraq and we will all in our own ways and in our own communities be sharing both, in hopes of deepening the understanding of what the occupation is doing to the Iraqi people and to their dreams of liberation.
One of the most powerful moments for me was on the first day, when Dr. Ali Hamoodi, a child psychologist and director of Iraq's only PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder) program, said, "We were very happy to hear that we were in Operation Liberate Iraq. But we find now that we are under occupation, not liberation." Until that moment, it had not really occurred to me that many Iraqis ever believed they were in Operation Liberate Iraq. But as I listened to people, I heard this disappointment. They did not know everything we knew. They did not have access to reliable information, just as we do not have access to it now. They did not then have satellite television; now satellite dishes are more common than water -- at least, than clean water. They did not necessarily know that Bush was a liar who never cared about their freedom. Many Iraqis had been oppressed by the regime for decades, and they thought now they would be freed. Now they understand that one despot they did not choose has replaced another, and this one is not even Iraqi. "Bush, Saddam, same donkey, different blanket," people say.
Another moment I will not forget was our entry into the impoverished Al-Kadmiyah Teaching Hospital. After a thorough search of our cars, the Iraqi security guards confiscated all our cameras. Why? we asked. The Coalition Provisional Authority, CPA, has forbidden all cameras and phones to be brought into the hospital grounds. I could not figure out why. After all, I would assume that if the CPA is doing its job, it would want everyone to see that it is rebuilding the country and caring for the people. I quickly learned why, when we went up to the pediatric ward with Dr. Ziyad, who acted as our tour guide. He pointed out the bathroom, which has several inches of standing water on the floor, but no running water inside. There is no heat in the rooms, he told us, so any patients who can go home at night because it is too cold to sleep in the hospital. If a journalist friend had not happened to come along later, I would not have learned the most distressing fact about this hospital, which Dr. Ziyad and Dr. Allaa reminded us is the "best Iraq has to offer." Atila asked Dr. Ziyad about the post-care death rate. He said, "Well, it's very high. We cannot control the infection." Robin pressed him for a figure? 70%? she guessed. He shook his head. "85. For children, 90 to 95." I could not take this in. I am not that familiar with the terminology, so I asked, "What does this mean exactly?" Atila said it bluntly, "It means if your child comes to this hospital for treatment, he or she is almost assured to be dead in a short while. "It's not a hospital, it's a death factory," Atila said.
Yanar Mohammed, whom we met on the second day, runs the Organization for Iraqi Women's Freedom. She is an communist with a beautiful feminist vision that I suspect is unfortunately not making as much headway with Iraqi women as she encouraged us to believe. I don't fault her. My friend Maha in Ramallah talks this way also. The left has to keep its spirits up; we all do it. One of Yanar's projects is the creation of Baghdad's first shelter for abused women. She mentioned that they had secured some funding, but now the funders were starting to hedge, because they feared retaliation from Islamists. Yanar and other organizers from the Workers' Democratic Party organized a march for women's political rights that we attended on Friday morning. It was pretty well attended, especially for the day before Eid, and very well covered by the Iraqi press (the people at the restaurant next to our hotel proudly told us they saw us on TV). Two days later, we were to meet Yanar at one of the squatter camps where she has been helping the residents organize to resist eviction by the government. Yanar did not come, and Jodie told us later it was because she had received death threats from Islamic parties after the demonstration, "and they are for real." She will have to lay low for a while. One of the projects Code Pink and others of us who participated in the delegation are committing to is raising money for the women's shelter, which does not have a large budget (QUIT!: a possibility for my SF report back?).
Wow! I thought I was not writing a real journal tonight. I only wanted you to know that I am in England. I got back to Amman with a bad flu, and slept for 36 hours straight. Had a day to shop, and flew out at 1:25 a.m. this morning. I am a lot better, though not quite well yet. I'm overwhelmed by the different sights and smells, how clean and new everything looks here, the ethnic diversity, the different food options. Oh, and how cold it is.
Tomorrow I am going to Exeter to see Suaad Genem-George, an IWPS board member originally from the Galilee. Suaad was an early member of Fatah and was imprisoned (and tortured) by the Israelis numerous times, including, she tells me, in Hadera. It will be really good to see her and discuss the situation now. Then I will spend a couple days with Angie, one of the founders of IWPS who is also denied entry and banned from returning by the Israelis, to debrief and discuss some organizational stuff. Then on Tuesday I head to the States (Washington, Richmond, then northeast, then west coast).
I will try to sum up some of my observations about Occupation: Palestine vs. Iraq in the next days, but I have a lot to do, so it might be a little while longer. Or you can wait for the movie.