June 10, 2010 by Lauren · Comments Off
On March 16, 1988, toward the end of the Iran-Iraq War, the Iraqi military used chemical weapons on the city of Halabja. The attack was meant to erase all Halabja inhabitants off the map: plants, animals and humans. A total of 5,000 men, women and children were killed in the attack, and of the survivors, 11,000 were injured.
As we walked through the memorial, I recalled an ancient Hebrew poem:
By the rivers of Babylon, we sat and wept
When we remembered Zion.
There on the poplars we hung our harps,
For there our captors asked us for songs,
Our tormentors demanded songs of joy
The poem is about the Hebrew people who were exiled in the land of Babylon, present-day Iraq. They cried because they missed their homeland; they cried because they were expected to be happy and play songs for their captors. But they couldn’t.
I wonder if that’s how the survivors of Halabja felt. They didn’t want to sing songs. Their families died. Their neighbors died. Like the Hebrews, some Iraqis living in Halabja had to leave their land and flee to Iran.
I’m trying to make sense of what happened in Halabja. I’m trying to make it mean something to me. We are bombarded with images of war and genocide on the news, making it easy to forget that Halabja was a reality. We forget that congenital birth defects caused by this and similar chemical attacks are a reality.
O, Daughter of Babylon, doomed to destruction,
happy is he who repays you
for what you have done to us
I hate how the Hebrew poem ends. Instead of offering hope for a people, it speaks of revenge against the tormentors. Hate is so easy. It is our job to choose not to hate.
Many children here need surgeries and medication and therapy to address their congenital birth defects. And some of them probably need this help as a result of the chemical attacks in Halabja and other attacks similar to it. As a newcomer and summer intern, I love that the Preemptive Love Coalition response to genocide is not to seek revenge on behalf of victims, but to work alongside Iraqis to bring healing to suffering children.
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