MIRacles No. 5

Joel GAzis-SAx
19 Srpanj 1992
Zagreb, Croatia
Copyright 1992

"Today, I sat at a table with a Dutch peace activist who supported intervention," I wrote to Friend Carol Newgate of Northumberland. "He seemed to reserve for himself the right to kill when convenient and I told him flat out that he was no pacifist. These words sound strong, but George Fox, I think, would not have reserved them. In any case, Joel Gazis-Sax did not and he has no shame for it."

Many peace activists coming through and back in the United States have convinced themselves that, at last, here we have a war in which intervention is justified. Even the best among us have had our doubts because the Serbs seem to be some inhuman things who kill without thought or remorse.

Not too long ago, I cited in an argument against this perennial myth the fact that the Serbian Orthodox Church has issued a statement condemning the war. An American activist scoffed at my evidence, saying "They only did that for political and strategic reasons." I could only say "There is that of God in Serbs, too."

I am not an absolute cultural relativist. I accept that God is manifest in all people and in most faiths. I do not proceed from this, however, to hold that a destructive practice should be ignored simply "because that is what people do down here." The atrocities committed by nationalist elements of the Serbian army and irregulars should receive a strong witness. As people of faith and love, we should also witness against intervention. The Croats want intervention so that they can kill more Serbs. I am disturbed that the some of the same activists who complain to me about America's use of the death penalty (where many justify it as an act of revenge) cannot see that they are supporting a larger version of the death penalty here.

Just as the death penalty in America fails to deter crime, so intervention will not end ethnic conflict in the Balkans unless there is utter genocide. Wam Kat, another Dutch peace activist working here, argues against intervention on the grounds that it will be as impossible to root out all the irregulars as it was to seek and destroy the Viet Cong. You will kill more people than you will liberate.

While I hear the pragmatism in his words, I also hear military pragmatism in them, a surrender to the thinking that we must use military analysis when we make our decision to intervene or not to intervene. And, I think, too, I hear a certain vain hopefulness. I remember how many of us gathered before the Gulf War, prophesying how Hussein would be a major nuisance for the American forces, that this would be no easy victory for America, etc. I confess to finding myself gloating with others over the number of Americans who might die with our pathetic conventional forces and weapons.

These same forces and weapons pulverized Iraq. Civilians died in numbers that are still mostly secret. The Gulf War resulted in my conversion to real pacifism and this conflict refines and strengthens my vision. I do not oppose intervention for its impossibilities, now, but for its possibilities, which are death and destruction.

I am saddened by the way in which we are willing to spend billions to maintain our war machines while mere millions to feed the hungry, clothe the naked, and shelter the homeless go unspent. Fifteen percent of the world's refugees stream around me and, yet, the UN gave Slovenia only US$40,000 to feed its 300,000 Bosnians! The UN has shifted from an agency for peace to one that uses war as its main tool for conflict resolution. By not helping the new nations of the Balkans care for these people, we sow the seeds of the next war by fueling resentment against the displaced, the new homeless.

Croatia now refuses to take any more refugees. Italy and Hungary may close their borders. Do we send these people back into Bosnia where more civilians are dying than soldiers and irregulars? I believe that Croatia will change its policy if the rest of us help them cope with the flood. A photo in one of the Croatian newspapers showed hundreds of Bosnian refugees sitting in the streets of Rjeka. I find it interesting that the Croatian word for refugee, "izbjeglica" comes from the same root as the word for avoidance, "izbjegavatis." The refugees, who come to Croatia and Slovenia to avoid death, are people who the whole world are avoiding and this is simply not right.

As I reached this point two hours ago, Edin Tuzlak came with a tall woman wearing a blue scarf over her head. Semra Turkovic has just come from Sarajevo via Kiseljak. Despite her Australian passport, UNPROFOR did nothing to help her because they had no mandate from the UN do to so.

She came with her two younger brothers on her own. She took off her hijab and let her hair down so that the guards at the Serbian checkpoints would not know that she was a Bosnian Muslim. The journey from Sarajevo to Kiseljak normally takes four hours. She and her brothers spent twenty four hours driving over stones, grass, and fields to reach this place of safety. Once, a Serbian guard thought he recognized her, but she managed to convince him that she was really the person whom her forged papers claimed she was. The Croatian military issued her a special pass to enter the country on account of her Australian citizenship. Had she held a Bosnian passport, she could not have escaped.

A few weeks ago, during a particularly bad shelling, she found herself underground praying that she would be killed rather than lose her legs. Nonetheless, she spoke of her faith becoming stronger under the strain. She reminded me of one of my neighbors back at home, a Palestinian woman, who lost everything she owned in East Jerusalem. The bombings and shellings have become part of daily life. "You know when to run. You know when to duck. You know when to hide. It is normal for us."

Another thing that has become normal is the lack of food, water, and electricity. When Semra's younger brother saw a potato, he became very excited. Semra hates tomatoes, but when she could find them in Sarajevo, she ate them. The UN is making no effort, it seems, to distribute food to the people. When the UNPROFOR vehicles pass, the people of Sarajevo call out "Chetnik taxi!" Only the press and the severely injured or ill get transport out of Sarajevo.

Semra, who has been in the thick of the fighting, understands better than most that I cannot accept intervention as a solution. When she asked if I would wear a bullet-proof vest, I said "yes". When she asked if I could handle a gun, I said "I do not carry guns or use them." I could see, however, that she understood that I cared for the people of Bosnia, that I wanted to do all that I could to see that they received the food and aid that they so desperately needed.

Christian and Jewish readers of this message should remember that Allah, the God of the Koran, is Yahweh, the God of the Old and New Testaments. Our Muslim brothers and sisters love the same God as we do: in the name of that God, should we not do all that we can to feed the Bosnians instead of doing that which will ensure that many more Bosnians, Croats, and Serbs die? We should not reserve the right to kill while neglecting the basic duties of our faith. Our witness to the whole world is peace. Let us do all that we can to create it in Bosnia and in the whole world.