Published on Tuesday, January 15, 2002 in the New Zealand Herald (Not from a USA paper)
Americans who lost members of their families in the 11 September attacks will arrive in Kabul to meet Afghans whose loved ones were killed by US bombs.
The meeting is seen by the grieving Americans as a step towards building something good out of profoundly shattering events. But they also bring with them a message of reconciliation that has provoked apprehension in the State Department and among US diplomats in Afghanistan.
Also See: Bridging Sorrow: September 11 Victims' Families Will Travel to Afghanistan to Meet with Afghans Who Lost Loved Ones During the Recent Conflict Global Exchange Press Release 1/9/02
The four American visitors will spend eight days in Afghanistan, not just meeting families but also learning about the devastation that has befallen this poorest of poor nations. They will meet Hamid Karzai, the leader of the interim Afghan government, as well as Colin Powell, the US Secretary of State, who is due to arrive on Thursday. They say they will forcefully put across their view that America should now engage in reconstruction and not revenge.
The visit has been organized by Global Exchange, a human rights organization whose founding director, Medea Benjamin, is traveling with the visitors. He asked: "The people of the US have shown tremendous compassion for the families of the victims of 11 September. Shouldn't our hearts and helping hands also go out to those Afghans who are every bit as innocent as the victims of 11 September? Don't we, as citizens of a wealthy nation that unleashed deadly force against Afghanistan, have a moral responsibility to help the innocent victims?''
The visitors will represent families who suffered in the different attacks on 11 September. Derrill Bodley, a 56-year-old professor of music, lost his daughter Deora on United Airlines flight 93, which crashed in Pennsylvania. Deora's stepsister Eva Rupp will accompany him. Rita Lasar, 70, a retired businesswoman, lost her brother Abe Zelmanowitz in the attack on the World Trade Center. Kelly Campbell, 29, who coordinated environmental campaigns, lost her brother-in-law Craig Amundson in the Pentagon attack.
Ms Campbell is making the trip on behalf of Craig's widow, Amber Amundson, who is at home looking after their two small children. Mr Amundson had a distinguished career in the US army, but he liked to say that his job was to maintain the peace rather than wage war. His widow said: "I have heard angry rhetoric by some Americans, including many of our nation's leaders who advise a heavy dose of revenge and punishment. To those leaders, I would like to make clear that my family and I take no comfort in your words of rage. If you choose to respond to this incomprehensible brutality by perpetuating violence against other innocent human beings, you may not do so in the name of justice for my husband."
Ms Rupp, who works in Washington DC at the Department of Commerce, had been close to Deora since the age of five. She said: "I am going to Afghanistan because I hope to build more understanding between Afghans and Americans.''
Mr Bodley, a professor of music at the University of the Pacific at Stockton, California, composed a piece of piano music which he called "Steps to Peace for Deora". He was asked to perform this later at the White House and a recording of the piece was presented to President George Bush.
The heroism of Abe Zelmanowitz was praised by the President during a speech honoring the victims at the National Cathedral. Mr Zelmanowitz was on the 27th floor of the north tower of the World Trade Center. when it was hit by the first plane. He could have escaped, but he chose instead to stay with his friend, a quadriplegic who could not have fled. His sister Rita said: "I am sure Abe would have wanted me to come. He always believed it is our duty to help those in need."
The first family the visitors will meet will be the Amiris at their tiny, cramped flat at the Old Makroyan suburb of Kabul. Abdul Basir and Shakila lost their five-year-old daughter, Nazila, during an American air strike on the morning of 17 October. She was playing with her younger brother and sister in a building 20 yards from their home when it was hit by a bomb. The pilots may have been trying to blast an army base a mile away. The Amiris do not know, no one has bothered to explain to them what went wrong. All their savings went on the funeral, they now live hand to mouth, facing eviction because of unpaid rent. "I am very glad the Americans are coming to see us," said Mr Amiri, a 34-year-old former police officer sacked by the Taliban because he refused to enforce their punitive policies.
"An innocent life lost is a terrible thing, wherever it is. The life of my daughter was precious, but so were the lives of all those who died in America.
"The terrorists did something evil, and then a pilot dropped a bomb which killed Nazila. I do not know why Allah allows such things to happen, perhaps they feel the same way about their God. We can only grieve for each other."
Three-year-old Shwata and Sohrab, six, were with their sister when the bombs landed. They managed to get away, but they were there 90 minutes later when a bulldozer scooped out Nazila's little body from the rubble. They both have nightmares and constantly cry and ask their mother for her. "She was such a beautiful little girl, my Nazila, people used to stop me on the street and say how beautiful she was," said Mrs Amiri, 33, stroking a faded photograph of her daughter.
"I would like to show the Americans this photo of her and try to explain how sad we feel. Maybe they will talk about the people they lost. It is a long way for them to come, and also very kind of them. We all suffer because of the terrible things men do.''
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE JANUARY 9, 2002 2:18 PM
CONTACT: Global Exchange Jason Mark, 415-558-9486 x 230 http://www.commondreams.org/news2002/0109-01.htm
Bridging Sorrow: September 11 Victims' Families Will Travel to Afghanistan to Meet with Afghans Who Lost Loved Ones During the Recent Conflict Historic Meeting Promises to Build New, Human Ties Between Americans and Afghans
SAN FRANCISCO - January 9 - In what promises to be a powerfully cathartic journey for peace, US citizens who lost loved ones on September 11 will travel to Afghanistan to meet with people whose family members died during the conflict in Afghanistan. The historic emotional exchange between victims' families represents a small but significant step toward building the bonds of friendship that are the true foundations of peace.
Four people who lost loved ones on September 11 will leave for Afghanistan on Saturday, January 12. They will arrive in Islamabad, Pakistan on January 14 and then travel to Kabul, Afghanistan on January 15. The victims' families will spend up to eight days in Afghanistan meeting with those who are also suffering the grief of loss. While in Afghanistan, the US visitors will meet with street children who lost their parents during the recent bombing, visit a hospital in Kabul, and help an Afghan family rebuild their home.
"For me, this trip is about respect and love for all human beings by all human beings, regardless of where they come from," says Derrill Bodley, a music professor from Stockton, California whose daughter, Deora, died on United Airlines Flight 93. "I'm going on this journey to show my concern for those innocent Afghans who have died or are suffering now. By embracing our common humanity and sharing our sorrow perhaps we will be able to avoid other loss in the future."
The victims-to-victims delegation is being organized by Global Exchange, an international human rights organization whose motto is 'building people-to-people ties.' Global Exchange hopes the meeting will have a profound impact in both countries by showing that individual Afghans and Americans suffer alike. Afghans will see that US citizens do care about their well being. The US visitors will gain a deeper understanding of Afghans as real people. And people around the world who learn of the exchange will get to witness the common humanity of all persons.
The four US citizens who will travel to Afghanistan are:
Derrill Bodley is a 56-year-old professor of music at Sacramento City College and the University of the Pacific in Stockton, California. Derrill lost his daughter, Deora, on United Airlines Flight 93, which crashed in Pennsylvania. His first response to the tragedy was a musical composition that came to him as he sat at his piano on September 13. Called "Steps to Peace--For Deora," he played this music at a White House tribute and gave a copy of the CD to President Bush.
Rita Lasar is a 70-year-old retired small businesswoman from New York. Rita lost her brother, Abe Zelmanowitz, at the World Trade Center. Abe was on the 27th floor of 1 World Trade Center when the first plane hit. Although he could have gotten out of the building, he chose instead to stay with his friend, a quadriplegic who could not get out. President Bush mentioned Abe's heroism during his speech honoring the victims at the National Cathedral.
Kelly Campbell is a 29-year-old environmental campaign coordinator in Oakland California. Her brother-in-law, 28 year-old Craig Amundson, was killed in the Pentagon attack, leaving behind a young wife and two small children. Kelly is travelling on behalf of Craig's widow, Amber Amundson, who has been an outspoken voice for reconciliation. In the weeks after the attack, Amber wrote in the Chicago Tribune: "My anguish is compounded exponentially by fear that [Craig's] death will be used to justify new violence against other innocent victims."
Eva Rupp is a 28-year-old woman who works in Washington DC at the Department of Commerce's National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. Eva is the step sister of Deora Bodley, and the two of them were close from the time Deora was five. "I'm going to Afghanistan because I hope to build more understanding between Afghans and Americans, and increase the potential for positive relationships between us," Rupp says.
A full accounting of civilian casualties from the US bombing campaign has not yet occurred, but reports from human rights organizations and academics place the number of innocent Afghan victims at between 2,000 and 4,000 people. At the very least, it is clear from news reports that thousands of people were either maimed or killed by US air strikes.
"The people of the United States, indeed the world, have shown tremendous compassion for the families of the victims of September 11. Shouldn't our hearts and helping hands also go out to those Afghans who are as every bit innocent as the victims of September 11?" says Medea Benjamin, founding director of Global Exchange. Ms. Benjamin will accompany the family members to Afghanistan. "Don't we, as citizens of a wealthy nation that unleashed deadly force against Afghanistan, have a moral responsibility to help Afghanistan's innocent victims?"
For more information about the victims-to-victims exchange, contact Jason Mark in San Francisco at 415-558-9486 x 230 or firstname.lastname@example.org .
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