On a desolate stretch of Iraqi desert near the Saudi Arabian border, about 60 volunteers stand precariously between the vast army of Saddam Hussein and equally formidable multinational forces. Since Dec. 24, the volunteers, members of the international Gulf Peace Team, have been camping on the front lines about two kilometres inside Iraq, offering themselves as human shields in hopes of preventing the outbreak of war. Last week, two Canadians set off for the peace camp, a huddle of tents pitched around a well where Moslems traditionally stop to rest on their annual pilgrimage to Mecca. Both Canadians acknowledge that their mission is dangerous, but they maintain that peace is worth the risk. “If I face death, my fate will be that of millions of people,” said Robert Chase, a 32-year-old
physician from Toronto. “I think that my
presence peace camp a preventing that from happening.” Said Muriel Sibley, 45, a potter, sculptor and mother of five from Victoria: “We all can do something; we don’t have to sit back and be led.”
The addition of the two Canadians last week raised to 15 the number of countries represented at the desert camp. Gulf Peace Team co-founder Jean Dreze said that he expects about 100 volunteers at the site by Jan. 15, when the UN resolution authorizing military force against Iraq takes effect. Dreze, a 31year-old Belgian economist, former lecturer at the London School of Economics and social activist who lives among the homeless in London, is clearly the inspiration for the camp volunteers. “If we believe in peace, we have to show some freedom from the possessive instincts that create violence,” said Dreze. "We must practise what we preach.”
That is a philosophy that Chase, who says that he plans to spend two weeks at the peace camp, obviously takes seriously. An occupational health physician at a Toronto clinic and a resident in community medicine at nearby
Hamilton’s McMaster University, he has been a longtime member of the Canadian Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War. Last year in Thailand, where Chase studied international development, he also became a Buddhist. Chase, who like most of the peacekeepers paid his own way to Iraq, declared: “I believe that a nonviolent protest voice in the war zone could be an incredible catalyst for reconsidering what is at stake.”
Sibley said that going to the camp is a reflection of her Quaker belief in nonviolence. She added that her husband, 38-yearold Calvin Revelle, and her children all supported her decision. She acknowledged that she was nervous on the eve of her three-week stay on the front lines, but added that the potential benefits outweigh the risks. “We expect soldiers to leave their families behind and go to the Gulf,” said Sibley. “We, too, must be willing to make the same sacrifices for peace.”
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