Washington Report on Middle East Affairs, May-June 2009, pages 71-72

Waging Peace

Seven Arrested in Ash Wednesday Occupation of Sen. Harkin’s Office

  • Sixteen activists, seven of whom were arrested, occupied Harkin’s Des Moines office on Feb. 25 (Photo M. Gillespie).

FEDERAL AND local authorities arrested seven people following a half-day occupation Feb. 25 of Sen. Tom Harkin’s (D-IA) Des Moines office by 16 Iowa peace and social justice activists protesting the senator’s support for Israel’s 22-day assault on Gaza.

Ed Bloomer, 61, Frank Cordaro, 58, Elton Davis, 47, Renee Espeland, 47, Chester Guinn, 80, Sherry Hutchison, 90, all of Des Moines, and Brian Terrell, 52, of Maloy, IA, were cited by federal officers on charges of interfering with official acts and released at the Neil Smith Federal Building about an hour after the building closed at 5 p.m.

“We’re going to very gently and very respectfully but still firmly be occupying your office here,” Terrell told Dianne Liepa, Harkin’s state director, when the group arrived shortly after 1 p.m., “and if that means a risk of arrest or jail, that’s something we’re doing in solidarity. But it doesn’t have to be that way. The senator can today make a public statement re-committing himself to the ideals of his youth and repenting of his very serious complicity in tremendous crimes.”

Terrell is a former executive director of the Catholic Peace Ministry (CPM). Harkin delivered the keynote speech at CPM’s Annual Bishop Dingman Award Dinner in 1997.

The activists, four Catholic Workers and three others, released a public statement comparing Sen. Harkin’s historic exposé of Tiger Cages, inhumane prisoner detainment cells used by U.S. forces during the Vietnam War, with the Gaza Crisis. Harkin’s efforts led to banning the use of the cages. The resulting public admiration at that time was a catalyst for Harkin’s career as an elected official. Declaring that “all of Gaza is a tiger cage,” the group called for Harkin to show the same conscience and courage on behalf of the people of Palestine.

“On this Ash Wednesday, we gather not to condemn Tom Harkin but to recognize our own complicity with him in these crimes and to invite him to join us in repentance,” said the statement.

“We invite Tom Harkin, who in receiving $546,950 over his career (Washington Report on Middle East Affairs, November 2008) is the second-largest recipient in the Senate of pro-Israel political action committee (PAC) contributions, to repent of ever accepting this money and to pledge to refuse it in the future,” said the statement.

Harkin’s office released his statement “On the Situation in Gaza” on Feb. 24.

“Clearly any sovereign nation has the right and the duty to defend its borders. And I understand and support Israel’s right to do so in defense of rocket attacks by Hamas. Unfortunately, this action escalated the violence and suffering by innocent people on both sides and that crisis had no winners. An open-ended conflict does not serve the long-term interests of the Israelis, Palestinians, nor the international community. A continued cease-fire and honest negotiations for long-term peace and stability is the best way forward,” said Harkin in part.

Harkin’s statement expressed approval of the Obama administration’s “much-needed proactive approach to the Middle East,” praised Obama’s appointment of former Sen. George Mitchell (D-ME) as special envoy to the Middle East, and characterized as “a positive development” reports that the administration plans to provide $900 million “directly to the people of Gaza” in humanitarian and reconstruction aid.

A court date on the federal charges has been scheduled for June 5, said Terrell.

Michael Gillespie

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