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Sponsored By Student Activist Groups-'Wheels Of Justice' Pass Through Newtown High School



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Sponsored By Student Activist Groups—

‘Wheels Of Justice’ Pass Through Newtown High School

By Larissa Lytwyn

For decades, young American students seemed far removed from the ongoing Mideast conflicts in Israel and Palestine; even post-Gulf War Iraq. But the current struggle in Iraq is being fought in part by American soldiers barely out of their teens.

Suddenly, the very concept of war, as well as America’s position in the international playing field, has become strikingly relevant.

Last year, Newtown High School students Annie Schneider and Emily Oliver founded A Global Voice, a student peace activist organization dedicated to finding truth and understanding on a variety of human rights issues.

In partnership with Western Connecticut State University’s Youth for Justice, A Global Voice recently co-sponsored a visit by activist organization Wheels of Justice at Newtown High School.

The group was formed a few years ago by members of Voices in the Wilderness, a group opposing, according to its mission statement, “economic and military warfare against the Iraqi people.”

In addition to Voices in the Wilderness, Wheels of Justice includes members of the Palestinian Right to Return Coalition, the Middle East Children’s Alliance, and the International Solidarity Movement.

Nearly 50 students and teachers came to hear Wheels of Justice members Brian Buckley, Bill Hill and Mazin Qumsiyeh discuss their position against Israel’s occupation of Palestine, as well as their antiwar position on the current conflict in Iraq.

Mr Buckley lives and works on the Little Flower Catholic Worker farm in central Virginia. The Catholic Workers movement, founded in 1933, is dedicated to promoting justice through gospels-inspired peace and compassion.

This past April, Mr Buckley traveled with Wheels of Justice to Najaf, Iraq, and Palestine.

“The Iraqi citizens feel distrustful of the outside forces, including our American troops, currently stationed there,” Mr Buckley told students. “With the insurgents, the fighting has intensified, not lessened, since Saddam Hussein was taken down. While a lot of the Iraqi people we spoke with were initially happy that Saddam was removed from power, they believe that the US has been here too long. Everyone is uncertain about the future.”

In addition, he said, the occupation of the country by the United States and its allies has “violated sacred [spiritual] spaces.”

Moreover, “Hospitals have been used as bases,” Mr Buckley said, “limiting access to civilian medical care.”

In lieu of major hospitals, relief organizations have established temporary medical care stations, said Mr Buckley, but the need of the people greatly outweighs the availability of resources.

Supporting The Troops

When he spoke to American soldiers, he said, the politics of the situation was hardly at the forefront of their minds.

“What the [American] soldiers talked about was how much they missed their families,” Mr Buckley said. “They looked forward to returning home.”

Mr Buckley and his colleagues struggled to probe more deeply into the soldiers’ experience actually fighting the war.

“By and large, they said they were committed to following their military orders,” he said. “They would tell us that they were proud to serve our country, and that was it.”

Still, Mr Buckley said, many of the soldiers he spoke with said they respected the cause of Wheels of Justice.

“We came from a place of simply seeking answers, and understanding and truth,” Mr Buckley explained. “We made clear that we are, and we always have been, supportive of the troops on the frontlines.”

Of concern, he said, were “the bigger questions.”

“Beyond the rhetoric of service,” said Mr Buckley, “you wonder what goes through the soldiers’ minds. Has serving in this war, at this time, been in step with what they have always believed? Is our presence in Iraq a truly good thing? Will it make us stronger, more united? Will it make us be viewed more positively on a global level?”

In conclusion, Mr Buckley said, “We reap what we sow.”

He said he believed the American government’s presence in Iraq was needlessly incendiary, aggravating, rather than soothing, a turbulent and complex situation.

Next, Dr Qumsiyeh, a Palestinian-American associate professor of genetics at the Yale University School of Medicine in New Haven, strode to the front of the classroom.

Dr Qumsiyeh was quick to note that his position against Israeli military occupation of Palestine was not anti-Israeli; he simply advocated that the two groups peacefully share a homeland as they once had for centuries.

An Abbreviated History

Using slides and several stirring photographs to illustrate his points, Dr Qumsiyeh guided students through an abbreviated history of the Israeli “occupation.”

He explained how the idea for a Jewish state during the late 1940s was motivated from a desire to give the long-suffering Jewish people a true “homeland.”

The formation of this homeland, however, was at the “expense” of the already Arab-occupied land of Palestine. Over the past several decades, millions of Palestinians had been displaced, separated from their families and sent to live in primitive refugee camps.

“I would compare this Palestinian/Israeli situation with the Native Americans here in America when the colonials first came,” said Dr Qumsiyeh. “The Native Americans were driven from their natural homes and led to live on small reservations. Huge populations were wiped out.”

Dr Qumsiyeh said it was difficult to get a different perspective on what he termed the Israeli “occupation” because of America’s myriad interests with Israel.

“There are approximately four million Jews living in America,” said Dr Qumsiyeh. “Five billion dollars in military support goes to Israel every year. The American government is clearly behind Israel — at the expense of the Palestinians.”

One student asked Dr Qumsiyeh his thoughts on the November presidential election.

“Even if John Kerry was elected president, it wouldn’t have really mattered,” said Dr Qumsiyeh. “Both were supportive of the war in Iraq. Both are firmly pro-Israel.”

Moreover, he said, “It is not the president that has all the power. It is you, us, the masses.”

He explained how massive human rights issues, from the war in Vietnam to apartheid in South Africa, was resolved through the unified power of the public.

Mr Hill, a Vietnam veteran, has been driving the Wheels of Justice bus for nearly a year; his term expires December 10. He has also driven caravans for Pastors for Peace.

Mr Hill served six months in prison in 1991 for blocking the doors to a federal building in protest of the Gulf War. He has traveled on behalf of the Catholic Workers to Mexico and South America in his efforts to aid the world’s most impoverished communities — many decimated by long civil wars.

Dr Qumsiyeh said that, like Mr Hill, one person could incite change.

“The possibilities lie in all of you,” he said.

After the presentation, students perused several pieces of Wheels of Justice literature, including copies of Dr Qumsiyeh’s recently published book on the Israel/Palestinian conflict titled Sharing the Land of Canaan.

For more information on Wheels of Justice, visit www.justicewheels.org.

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