Women from Iraq and New York City
At the reception, where most people have paid $50 to attend, several of the women speak. I realize I have not prepared myself to hear from these women. It is like the play I went to see in Berkeley before I left, “Nine Parts of Desire”. After that sitting thru that play, I felt nothing we are doing is enough, nothing.
I know, I am informed, I can feel what is happening in Iraq – like the play, I am not learning anything new, I am not newly shocked, newly horrified, newly anything. It is just more alive - not flat words that my spirit enlivens - living, inescapable, adding another dimension to my knowledge.
It is so intense, being here with these women, knowing their lives have been destroyed so our lives can continue at our current level of life style. I am so ashamed of my government, our corporations, our lives. It is hard to look these women in the eyes – tears blind me, my heart aches.
They introduce themselves and talk about the jobs, the careers, the life they used to have – before bombing, before sanctions, before, before, before…. And the lives they have now, since the bombing began, since the fighting began, since the horrors began.
The reception ends and everyone heads over to the church where the general public has been invited to come hear these women, and Holly Near, Medea Benjamin, and Cindy Sheehan.
One of the women walks off stage. She refuses to speak. She has seen someone wearing a Jewish star. Rae & I go to speak with her. She struggles to tell us she will not speak when there is an Israeli presence. She says it is too dangerous for her, if anyone in Iraq sees her sharing a stage with Jews, she will get shot when she returns. Her family might get killed before she gets back.
Rae tells her there is no mainstream media here, unfortunately, that will be shown back in Iraq. She says even if there were, the Jewish star is not visible from the camera point of view. She says all Americans, including Jews, need to hear what she has to say.
I ask her to explain how being on stage with an Israeli or a Jew compares to being on stage with a U.S. American – is this not a risk for her, her family? I, the privileged American that I am, I’m struggling to talk with her about prejudice and hate, and about courage to stand against those forces that make us, the people, all enemies.
We tell her we cannot imagine the risks, the dangers she takes every day, let alone the enormous risk she has taken to come here to this country so that we might hear from her own lips, her own eyes, what is happening in Iraq.
We tell her whether she chooses to speak or not, we will support her. If she chooses not to speak, we will support her; if she chooses to speak, we will support her.
Rae points out all the Jews (including Rae & myself) in CodePINK to her and tells her it is money from Jewish individuals and congregations that has been contributed to get her here. I tell her we all must face our bigotries and choose a different path.
We tell her about the United States and her upcoming tour – there are people who will wear signs, symbols, and even say things that we disagree with, even despise. This is the U.S. She will see all kinds of people from all kinds of philosophies & mentalities. She needs to be prepared for this.
We tell her, above all, we need to hear her voice – her unique, incredible, strong, amazon voice.
She pauses as we all try to keep our tears from becoming torrents. She gathers herself and heads for the stage. She speaks in Arabic to the audience, not mentioning Jews or Israel, but talking from her heart about how hard it is to survive in Iraq, her beautiful country that is now dangerous and broken.