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Writings by Kathy Kelly

Remembering Nur Agha Akbari

An Afghan friend, Nur Agha Akbari, was killed by gunmen in Afghanistan two weeks ago. The photo above shows his daughters sitting at his graveside. An Afghan friend, Nur Agha Akbari, was killed by gunmen in Afghanistan two weeks ago. The photo above shows his daughters sitting at his graveside.

July 3, 2013

On June 17th, in Afghanistan, The Frontier Post reported that unidentified gunmen shot dead two employees of the agriculture ministry as they traveled through the Logar province. One of them was our friend, Noor Agha Akbari. He and his colleague had been distributing gardening items in the Alam district and were on their way home to their families in Kabul.

In 2010, the first Voices for Creative Nonviolence delegation to visit Afghanistan carried a short list of people whom an expat then living outside of Afghanistan strongly recommended we contact. When we called Nur Agha Akbari, he immediately agreed to meet with us, and so began a friendship which eventually allowed dozens of people from the U.S. to better understand challenges faced by ordinary Afghan families struggling for a better, fairer society. Now we are extending condolences to his family. As noted above, gunmen killed him as he traveled back to Kabul after having distributed gardening items in the Logar province.

Mr. Akbari was a robust, energetic, well educated man from a respected, academic Afghan family. In the late 1970s, Nur had gone to study agriculture in the UK and remained there, becoming an organic farmer. His four brothers had stayed in Afghanistan, or else returned there after studies abroad. His two eldest brothers had trained in the Soviet Union – one as an engineer, one as a nuclear scientist – and had received early warning of the likelihood of what came to be the 1979 Soviet invasion. They spoke out publicly about their fears as the invasion grew more and more imminent.

On December 27 of that year, Soviet troops occupied major government, media and military buildings in Kabul, initiating a nine-year war between a nationalist/fundamentalist resistance (the “Mujahideen”) and the Soviet occupiers. Soviet officials fired Nur’s oldest brother from his cancer research work at Kabul University and blacklisted him. He found himself unable to work, and soon joined the resistance. Nur doesn’t know much about what happened to him then, but he was among thousands of people bulldozed into mass graves after capture and execution by the Soviets. All told Nur knows very little about the fates of his three older brothers, all killed in the war. But their tragedy would largely shape his life.

Nur had arranged for his surviving, younger, brother to join him in the UK. But Nur would lie awake at night, thinking about the children and the wives of his slain brothers. Concerned that his nephews and nieces were now fending for themselves in Afghanistan’s war zones, fatherless and penniless, he resolved to return home.

Reflection from the road

On day 50 of the Guantanamo hunger strike and day 6 of a Witness Against Torture fast in solidarity with prisoners in Guantanamo, I’m on a bus traveling a mountain highway in Virginia. Spring colors, muted yet certain, emerge across fields and valleys. Distant blue peaks shadow farms where cows and horses graze. The scenery is picturesque and pastoral. A week ago, aboard a train to West Virginia, I stared at towns marked by a sad, strong contrast. The train passed through Appalachian towns. Collapsed houses, abandoned lots and blighted neighborhoods reminded me of war zones.

War without End

U.S. Marines occupy Baghdad, in March 2003, in front of the Al Fanar hotel that housed Voices activists throughout the Shock and Awe bombing.U.S. Marines occupy Baghdad, in March 2003, in front of the Al Fanar hotel that housed Voices activists throughout the Shock and Awe bombing.

March 19, 2013

Ten years ago, in March of 2003, Iraqis braced themselves for the anticipated “Shock and Awe” attacks that the U.S. was planning to launch against them. The media buildup for the attack assured Iraqis that barbarous assaults were looming. I was living in Baghdad at the time, along with other Voices in the Wilderness activists determined to remain in Iraq, come what may. We didn’t want U.S. - led military and economic war to sever bonds that had grown between ourselves and Iraqis who had befriended us over the past seven years. Since 1996, we had traveled to Iraq numerous times, carrying medicines for children and families there, in open violation of the economic sanctions which directly targeted the most vulnerable people in Iraqi society, - the poor, the elderly, and the children.

I still feel haunted by children and their heartbroken mothers and fathers whom we met in Iraqi hospitals.

“I think I understand,” murmured my friend Martin Thomas, a nurse from the U.K., as he sat in a pediatric ward in a Baghdad hospital in 1997, trying to comprehend the horrifying reality. “It’s a death row for infants.” Nearly all of the children were condemned to death, some after many days of writhing in pain on bloodstained mats, without pain relievers. Some died quickly, wasted by water-borne diseases. As the fluids ran out of their bodies, they appeared like withered, spoiled fruits. They could have lived, certainly should have lived - and laughed and danced, and run and played- but instead they were brutally and lethally punished by economic sanctions supposedly intended to punish a dictatorship over which civilians had no control.

Kathy Kelly on Uprising Radio

January 8, 2013

We’ll go to Kabul, Afghanistan, to speak with activist Kathy Kelly about the on-going discussions between President Karzai and Obama over US troop withdrawals. And, we’ll examine the various pieces of gun control legislation introduced into Congress. Plus, a look at a controversial proposed ordinance in Los Angeles that would ban the sharing of rental apartments by multiple families.

As Afghan President Hamid Karzai visits Washington DC this week, high on the agenda in his talks with President Barack Obama is the manner and detail of US troop withdrawal from Afghanistan. Karzai has been publicly very critical of the US in recent months, relaying his dissatisfaction in speeches, particularly over issues of national sovereignty.

In Kabul, Widows and Orphans Move Up

Zainab, Umalbanin, Ali,  Kathy and Martha going up the mountainsideZainab, Umalbanin, Ali, Kathy and Martha going up the mountainside

January 7, 2012

Kabul —Yesterday, four young Afghan Peace Volunteer members, Zainab, Umalbanin, Abdulhai, and Ali, guided Martha and me along narrow, primitive roads and crumbling stairs, ascending a mountain slope on the outskirts of Kabul. The icy, rutted roads twisted and turned. I asked if we could pause as my heart was hammering and I needed to catch my breath. Looking down, we saw a breathtaking view of Kabul. Above us, women in bright clothing were navigating the treacherous roads with heavy water containers on their heads or shoulders. I marveled at their strength and tenacity. “Yes, they make this trip every morning,” Umalbanin said, as she helped me regain my balance after I had slipped on the ice.

About ten minutes later, we arrived at the home of Khoreb, a widow who helped us realize why so many widows and orphans live in the highest ranges of the mountain. Landlords rent one-room homes at the cheapest rates when they are at this isolating height; many of the homes are poorly constructed and have no pipes for running water. This means the occupants, most often women, must fetch water from the bottom of the hill each and every morning. A year ago, piped water began to reach some of the homes, but that only meant the landlords charged higher rent, so women had to move higher up the mountain for housing they can afford. It only made their daily water-carrying longer and more arduous.

We Want it to Stop

 Young men from Beit Hanoun tell visitors what happened when Israeli rockets hit their neighbourhood on November 15, 2012, killing two children Young men from Beit Hanoun tell visitors what happened when Israeli rockets hit their neighbourhood on November 15, 2012, killing two children

Across the road, the home of Jamal Abdul Karim Nasser is uninhabitable. The ruins of the home face directly onto the missile crater. Young relatives explained to us that shrapnel from the missiles had killed Odai Jamal Nasser, age 15. We were standing on the edge of the crater when Odai’s brother Hazem, age 20, asked us into what remained of his home.

The missile explosions had shattered every window, and done extensive damage to walls and floors.

Hazem and his family had been sleeping in a hallway, so as to be safer from attack, when suddenly the house was falling down on top of them. “My father’s arm and head were bleeding,” said Hazem, “and he was looking for a flashlight to check on the children.” Hazem’s mother took the two youngest sons out of the house and headed for their uncle’s home. Hazem’s father suddenly realized that the son sleeping next to him, Hazem’s brother Odai, was dead. Hazem’s other younger brother, Tareq, started crying out for help and then lost consciousness. After calling for an ambulance Hazem’s father began heading for the nearby mosque to seek help. But the mosque was ablaze. They waited ten agonizing minutes for the firemen to arrive. The moment the firemen arrived, so did another rocket, injuring several of the first responders.

The missile explosions had shattered every window, and done extensive damage to walls and floors.

Hazem and his family had been sleeping in a hallway, so as to be safer from attack, when suddenly the house was falling down on top of them. “My father’s arm and head were bleeding,” said Hazem, “and he was looking for a flashlight to check on the children.” Hazem’s mother took the two youngest sons out of the house and headed for their uncle’s home. Hazem’s father suddenly realized that the son sleeping next to him, Hazem’s brother Odai, was dead. Hazem’s other younger brother, Tareq, started crying out for help and then lost consciousness. After calling for an ambulance Hazem’s father began heading for the nearby mosque to seek help. But the mosque was ablaze. They waited ten agonizing minutes for the firemen to arrive. The moment the firemen arrived, so did another rocket, injuring several of the first responders.

Truth and Trauma in Gaza

December 1, 2012

Dr. T., a medical doctor, is a Palestinian living in Gaza City. He is still reeling from days of aerial bombardment. When I asked about the children in his community he told me his church would soon be making Christmas preparations to lift the children’s spirits. Looking at his kindly smile and ruddy cheeks, I couldn’t help wondering if he’d be asked to dress up as “Baba Noel,” as Santa Claus. I didn’t dare ask this question aloud.

“The most recent war was more severe and vigorous than the Operation Cast Lead,” he said slowly, leaning back in his chair and looking into the distance. “I was more affected this time. The weapons were very strong, destroying everything. One rocket could completely destroy a building.”

The 8-day Israeli offensive in November lasted for fewer days and brought fewer casualties, but it was nonstop and relentless, and everywhere.

“Civilian services and civilian administrative buildings along with a Palestinian bank building were affected.”

Kathy Kelly Video Interview

Agust 28, 2012

Pat Taub interviews renowned peace activist Kathy Kelly. Kathy has traveled to the hotspots of war such as Kosovo, Gaza, Iraq, and Afghanistan. She has recently returned from her eighth trip to Afghanistan where she lives and works with women and children in the war-torn country.

Parting with Sister Anne Montgomery

August 29, 2012
www.wagingnonviolence.org

Anne MontgomeryAnne Montgomery

Anne Montgomery died yesterday. I remember her words to me and to our young Iraqi friend Eva, sitting in the Al Monzer hotel in Amman, Jordan. This was in 2006, and she’d waited three weeks for a visa to enter Iraq as a peace witness. Anne had crossed into zones of conflict more times than any other activist I’d known. During these weeks with us, she’d been meeting and working with Iraqi refugees, many of them undocumented and struggling to eke out a living in Jordan.

Now the wait was over. The visas were not forthcoming, and Anne had decided she was needed most in the Palestinian West Bank city of Hebron, where the Christian Peacemaker Team — at that point, she had been a “CPT-er” for 11 years — was particularly short staffed and had requested a month of her time. She was going to attempt the crossing from Jordan into Israel by taxi, since Israel could very well have refused her entry, and we were to save a bed for her. But for the moment, we treasured the chance to learn from her in case this was a parting.

Thirsting for Justice

August 21, 2012

Thirsting for JusticeThirsting for Justice

At Maryhouse Catholic Worker, in New York City, word arrived, on a hot August day that, due to street construction, the water would be cut off for four hours the following day. The Catholic Worker community serves scores of guests each day, and the water shortage would have to be dealt with practically. Catholic Workers are legend for being practical in their approach toward problem solving, and in this matter a decision was quickly made: fill the bathtubs on each floor with water, post a sign that none of the toilets could be used, and quickly make one hundred or so egg salad sandwiches which could be served to guests at the door since it wouldn’t be practical to invite people indoors when there wouldn’t be any running water. How could they wash the dishes? What about the women who were accustomed to coming in and taking a shower? And how could you close off the toilets to the usual flow of guests?

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