The Arab women’s peace ship
11 / 1996
From Algiers to Bassorah, the goal of the epic journey of the Arab women for peace’s boat was to highlight the desire for peace of women all over the world, whereas men, heads of government and the majority of ordinary citizens see military intervention as the only means of settling conflicts. Indeed, immediately after the invasion of Kuwait by Iraq in August 1990, the noise of boots resounded with the expedition of a considerable Western armed force. This operation was supported by Security Council resolutions, although the United Nations Charter states that everything must be done to safeguard peace and prevent war. In particular, the charter recommends the opening of negotiations at any price, eliminating the setting of preliminary conditions dictated by the strongest. Despite this, the negotiations proposed by the West to Iraq were subject to preliminary conditions.
Alone, women did not allow themselves to be intimidated by this arsenal of legal and military measures, the former having as their aim to give respectability and legitimacy to displays of force, the latter that of showing Iraq and subject countries that the dominant powers intended using warfare rather than lose control over the region’s oil . Following this, to counterbalance this "logic of war" and show their desire for peace, the women of Arab countries met in Yemen. They also wanted to demonstrate their opposition to the military blockade, set up after the invasion of Kuwait, which had already caused victims among Iraqi and Jordanian children deprived of medicines and milk.
To this end, they decided to load a boat, the Ibn Khaldoun, and organize a voyage from Algiers to the Iraqi port of Bassorah, inviting women from the countries forming the coalition against Iraq (Europe, United States and Japan)to participate. Thus 282 women from Arab countries accompanied by a few children, from western countries and Japan travelled on the same boat to show that negotiation was the only real alternative to war. Furthermore, the participants on the boat wanted to show their solidarity with the children of Iraq whose health and lives were in danger, by bringing them a cargo of powdered milk and flour.
The experience of the boat of Arab women for peace highlighted the remarkable qualities they employed in preparing this operation:
- The capacity for planning and organizing the voyage, initially scheduled for 18 days, for some three hundred women and fifteen children. This capacity was also evident in the collection of funds to buy the powdered milk and flour. These commodities were hoisted aboard the boat at each stop in Arab ports.
- The capacity of organizing daily life where solidarity between the women functioned very quickly to maintain the ship, the preparation of cultural evenings of great quality which took place on board every evening, the holding of conferences and the creation of a collective newsletter. They showed great courage when they resisted the attack of dozens of American, English and Australian soldiers who were parachuted, disguised and armed to the teeth, onto the boat while sailing through the Persian Gulf, just before arriving at Bassorah. They treated the women, children and male members of the crew with abominable violence.
They resisted intimidation and armed violence when they refused to bow to the demands of these invaders who demanded them to throw their cargo of milk and flour into the sea. They preferred to suffer two weeks of thirst, hunger, blows and their consequences rather than obey. Finally, after two weeks of the boat being occupied, they succeeded in getting the cargo unloaded in a port in the Sea of Oman and sent to Sudanese children. An act of solidarity between these Arab, Western and Japanese women, who remained united during the darkest hours under the violence meted out by the soldiers, refusing expatriation, except for two women suffering from cardio-vascular illness. All were unanimous in resisting the invaders’ designs for as long as possible.
- It is a testimony of control of a crisis situation when, at the worst moment, they succeeded in contacting the Red Cross and addressing the UN Secretary General and the heads of State of Arab countries to inform them of the human rights abuses to which they and the crew were victims.
Obviously, the women of the Ibn Khaldoun did not succeed as they wished, to impose peace and stop a war that began the day after their arrival in Bassorah. But they showed that the assertion by the Security Council according to which the blockade of Iraq did not cover medicines and food was untrue. They shook the legitimacy of the Security Council which pretended to define the rules of a new world order, whereas it was violating the rights set out in the universal rights of man.
The fact that the coalition parachuted armed forces onto a boat occupied by hardly more than 300 hundred women and a few children revealed to what extent men felt themselves called into question by the potential for peace represented by women’s solidarity, which knows no frontiers. The silence of the general media also revealed that, for the deciders of war and the arms traders, it would be dangerous for women to become aware of their strength and organize themselves, since war made by men would be threatened with disappearance, allowing peace to triumph.
For the women who participated in the Peace Ship, this experience marked the beginning of their commitment in a struggle that has lasted for more than six years to stop the blockade of Iraq, which cruelly affects its people and most particularly the most vulnerable of them (children, elderly people, the sick, etc.), and which should be brought to an end as soon as possible.
Original sheet in French (nfm 06162).
AL SADOON, Nasra, Le bateau des femmes arabes pour la paix, L'Harmattan
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