Thursday, January 13, 2005

This story touched my heart

US-IRAQ:Families of the Fallen Unite in Grief - And Anger
Dahr Jamail AMMAN, Jordan, Jan 11 (IPS) -

It has been nearly two years since Fernando Suarez del Solar's son Jesus, a lance corporal in the U.S. Marines, died during the invasion of Iraq. The father's grief is still fierce, but rather than succumbing to feelings of vengeance, he has chosen instead to bring medical aid to Iraqi children and speak out against what he believes is an unjust and ill-advised war.

Suarez has every right to be angry. He was initially told that his son, one of the first U.S. casualties, was killed by a gunshot to the head on Mar. 27, 2003. Later, Suarez was informed that his 20-year-old son was killed by a landmine. Still later, based on information confirmed by an ABC reporter embedded with Jesus' unit, Suarez learned that his son died from stepping on an unexploded cluster bomb, a weapon that many argue is illegal under the Geneva Conventions. ”This has given me a lesson that we can work together, no matter if we are Arab, Mexican or American,” Suarez told a meeting of the Arab Human Rights Association in Amman, Jordan late last month. ”The blood of our people who have died should serve to unite us against this corrupt government in the U.S.” While several Arab attendees nodded in agreement, Suarez added, ”I ask for the forgiveness in the name of my people, but this is not enough. We have to do something to end this.”

Laden with three bulging suitcases of medical supplies he collected in California, Suarez had come to Jordan with his wife on a mission to help Iraqis, particularly children, who are suffering and dying amidst the occupation. Sponsored by the human rights group Global Exchange and the Los Angles-based peace group, Code Pink, the delegation included members of two other families who lost loved ones in Iraq, as well as a woman who lost her son in the Sep. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks on the United States.

Emotions ran high at a meeting between the delegation and Iraqis who have lost relatives to the violence, and many began crying, including Suarez, a native of Mexico who moved to the United States when Jesus was a teen. ”You have to understand that our children were forced to go to Iraq, they didn't want to go,” he said. ”Sometimes it is survival, but that doesn't justify that they don't help people, or that they abuse prisoners. Maybe the medicine we bring can help 100 children survive. But we are working to help the whole country survive.”

Later, at another meeting with Iraqi families, Suarez listened to the story of a sheikh -- a religious and community leader -- from Fallujah, who said his son-in-law had been executed by U.S. soldiers in his home the previous week. Asking to remain nameless for his own safety, the sheikh took great personal risks to travel to Amman to share his story. He said his son-in-law had been executed during a home raid, while his wife was in the next room. Later, the U.S. military informed the sheikh that they had mistakenly killed the wrong man.

”This man was killed last weekend,” the bearded sheikh said, holding up a photo of his dead son-in-law in one hand and a picture of two little girls in the other. ”These two kids will not see their father again.”

”This moment should be a lesson for us all. Let us say the truth for all the people. To the people whose presidents lied to them, and the media who helps them in their lies,” continued the sheikh.

After pausing to wipe his tears, Suarez took the opportunity to address the group. ”I understand we are united here in our grief,” he said, ”The pain of having lost a part of our lives...No matter what I say, your own suffering is not going to change. But we can hopefully avoid that other people suffer what we have suffered. Thank you for being together today, my brother, and you are all part of my family.”

For a moment nobody in the room could speak, until the sheikh added, ”Thank you for these words that come from the heart.”

”I am going to try to continue the campaign to bring medicine for Iraq,” Suarez told IPS near the end of his trip last week. ”This is important because the war is not going to stop today. The victims are increasing every single day. The Iraqi children need more help.”

It is estimated that the medical supplies and funding totaling 600,000 dollars brought in by Suarez and the delegation will bring relief to at least 10,000 Iraqis, the majority of them women and children in refugee camps along the border. He knows the bond of grief between himself and people like the sheikh is a touchstone for unity and action. ”When the Iraqi families listen to my story, hear that my son died, it opens their hearts and they give me a beautiful welcome,” he explained, ”The Iraqi families see that Americans cry too, that Americans have pain, and we are humans and they see this. It doesn't matter where we come from.” (END/2005)

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