Congressman Kucinich first US Official to Tour Damage in Southern Lebanon
by : Democratic Underground
Saturday September 2, 2006 - 17:56
CLEVELAND (September 1) Congressman Dennis Kucinich, ranking member on the Subcommittee on National Security, Emerging Threats and International Relations, and his wife Elizabeth have just returned from a personal peace-building initiative in the Middle East. Their mission included war-torn Lebanon, where they met separately and at length with Lebanon Prime Minister Fouad Siniora, President Emile LaHoud, General Michel Aoun, former Prime Minister and now leader of the Progressive Patriotic Party; Fawzi Salloukh, Minister of Foreign Affairs and Emigrants, Yacoub Sarrat, Minister of the Environment and former Prime Minister Selim Al-Hoss.
There was unanimity among Lebanese leaders that now is the time to explore multiparty talks with hopes of achieving a breakthrough agreement for peace in the entire region. All felt that political negotiations were key, as opposed to use of force. Each official spoke of the necessity of lifting the blockade, addressing the status of the Shebaa Farms, engaging in an exchange of prisoners with Israel and obtaining maps of areas mined by the Israeli army.
The couple toured the heavily damaged suburban Beirut area where they witnessed the ruins of thousands of apartment dwellings and hundreds of businesses. Kucinich became perhaps the first US official to cross the Litani River, accompanying a humanitarian mission from the American University in Dubai delivering food, water and medical supplies deep into southern Lebanon.
"Village after village was reduced to piles of rubble. We saw thousands of destroyed homes. We also saw bombed out hospitals, schools, factories, churches, mosques, fire stations, gas stations, cars, bridges, roads, water systems, electric systems, banana plantations, and lemon groves," Kucinich said.
"In several villages we stopped and walked through piles of concrete and dust from what had once been homes. Public areas were littered with unexploded cluster bombs and land mines. The smell of death was everywhere. Homes still standing upon closer inspection had holes in the walls from artillery shells."
One of the most emotionally wrenching moments came at 10 o’clock at night as they arrived in the village of Qana, the Cana of biblical lore where Christ performed the first of his miracles, changing water into wine. One of the greatest tragedies of war befell a house in Qana where a 1,000 pound bomb exploded and collapsed the structure crushing dozens of women and children who had sought shelter in the basement.
Kucinich and his wife went to pay respects to the dead as a graveyard in the center of the village was lit by automobile headlights. They walked by several rows of graves, each with a picture of someone killed in the bombing. One picture was of four members of the same family. Buried were a mother and her three children. As Kucinich quietly wept, a hand reached around his shoulder to console him. It was the man who lost his wife and three children.
Kucinich and his wife were led away from the graves across the road and down a very narrow street, over piles of debris from the blast and to the scene of the disaster. Some children’s’ clothing and bomb fragments were still visible in the rubble. A crowd quickly gathered as it was learned that an American congressman had come to the village. Soon nearly fifty villagers surrounded the couple, including many who had lost family members through what they believed was an American-made bomb.
Elizabeth Kucinich said: "Dennis and I will never forget what followed. Here we stood in the darkness, surrounded by people who suffered great loss, who had every right to express anger or even rage, yet instead they expressed remarkable depth of forgiveness, compassion and a desire for peace and reconciliation, calling out from the crowd through interpreters: "We do not hate America. We love the American people. We do not like what your government does. Please tell the American people that we are not terrorists. We do not hate Israel. We want to be safe in our village. We want to be left alone. We want peace." The couple promised to take the message from Qana back to the United States.
A last minute flight cancellation forced the couple to travel to Israel overnight, 11 hours by car, across Lebanon, Syria and Jordan. In Israel they met with directors and policy advisors of the State of Israel’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Jerusalem and discussed the war, security and Israeli casualties. The Kuciniches had hoped to visit the affected areas in northern Israel but were told by Israeli officials that there would not be much to see because repairs were almost completed. In the Palestinian town of Ramallah, they met with a small group of government officials and representatives of NGOs. They also met with Suheil Dawani, Coadjutor Bishop of the Diocese of Jerusalem and his wife.
In July, when the war broke out, Kucinich quickly organized a group of 36 House members who sponsored House Concurrent Resolution 450, which called upon the administration to seek immediate ceasefire and to help convene multi-party talks in the region, with no preconditions. Last week Kucinich called for an end to the blockade of Lebanon.
Dennis and Elizabeth Kucinich plan to issue a series of reports on their visits to the region, as part of their effort to craft the elements of a peace plan for the region.
Email from a missionary who met with DK and EK I got this on Friday, but couldn’t figure out how/where to post it. At that time, I had no idea that DK was making a tour. Janet Lewis is the originaor of this e-mail. She is a United Methodist Church missionary in Lebanon.
Just a quick update that might be of interest especially to those of you from Ohio. Yesterday I was invited to attend a meeting on the hush-hush with Ohio Congressman (former Senator and Cleveland mayor) Dennis Kucinich who was here for a very brief 36 hour visit after stopping first in Lebanon to see the damage and visit with the people there. This area is off limits to US diplomats and government workers at the moment with only a few key exceptions (In fact, the US State Dept just issued a warning for all Americans to leave Gaza and northern Israel. For those of us who have been around a while, we recognize that to mean that Israel is planning another “operation” and don’t want us in the way.) When the congressman and his wife went to board the flight at the Beirut airport to fly to Tel Aviv the Israelis (who seem to be controlling the airport in Beirut at the moment) suddenly cancelled the flight and everyone had to get off the plane. The Kuciniches, being persistent enough in wanting to get here, arranged for a car to drive them from Beirut, through Syria, Jordan and across the bridge into the West Bank of Palestine! After a day of seeing the Separation Wall and meeting with the Anglican bishop (Elizabeth Kucinich is a staunch Anglican from London) we had a very small meeting, only 8 of us representatives from a few organizations doing work in Jerusalem. The congressman did not want the invitation to go out to the list of over 200 organizations. This was just a very private meeting to glean some much needed information. Sabeel was asked to be there and I went since I’m not only from Ohio, but grew up in Cleveland where the Kuciniches still live. After about 2 hours of dragging out maps of the division between east and west Jerusalem, the wall route, the settlements, the separation between Gaza and the rest of the West Bank, and other enlightening information, he finally stood up, spread his hands across the maps and said in a voice filled with disbelief, “This is diabolical!” Needless to say, we all agreed. For someone like Kucinich who has made some strong statements regarding the issue of Palestine and is currently working on getting a Department of Peace and Non-violence started at the Cabinet level (he already has over 60 other Congressional sign-ons) I was happy that he finally “got it”, but not surprised that he was as uninformed as he seemed to be. At least he is making an effort to get informed.
After the meeting five of us (including the congressman and his wife, Elizabeth) piled into my car and went for dinner where we picked up the conversation. Dennis and Elizabeth both expressed their amazement that while visiting the town of Cana in Lebanon where so much damaged had occurred, where unexploded Israeli cluster bombs were still lying on the ground, where people had been so completely devastated, that all the people could say was, “Please tell them in the US that we aren’t terrorists, we want to live in peace.” According to the Kuciniches, there was no animosity, no feelings of revenge or a need for retaliation against the US or even Israel. They were quite affected by the genuine desire for peace.
After dinner I drove them back to their hotel where they gave me their private cell phone numbers and emails and asked that I bring as much material from Palestinian organizations as I could when I got to Cleveland in November. They said they had been given a pile of materials eight inches high by the Israeli Foreign Ministry and wanted an equal stack from the Palestinian perspective. I told them I’d bring a whole suitcase full!
The point of all this is to show the need to encourage men like Dennis Kucinich who have the fortitude and desire to truly work for peace through non-violent means, to promote the teaching of peace, the creation of a department of peace to counteract a War Department. The fact that he even came here to see for himself, when so many others refuse, offers a glimmer of hope for those of us whose jobs have become this increasingly steeper uphill battle. Our world is becoming smaller and smaller, and if we can’t learn how to live with each other side by side as neighbors, appreciating our differences instead of trying to homogenize the world through brute force, we could put our energies into healing this planet and improving the quality of life...for ALL people.
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