REPORT ON SOUTH SOUND MEETING ON GAZA
By Mark Jensen
** Six congressional staffers hear out twelve constituents on the recent Gaza war **
United for Peace of Pierce County (WA)
January 24, 2009
[NOTE: Apologies to Clark Mather of Rep. Norm Dicks's office, whose name was given incorrectly in an earlier version of this report. --M.K.J.]
At 9:00 a.m. on Friday morning, January 23, twelve South Sound constituents met with staffers of Sen. Patty Murray, Sen. Maria Cantwell, Rep. Norm Dicks (D-WA 6th), and Rep. Adam Smith (D-WA 9th) in a room at the Fabulich Center (formerly Port Business Center) on Port of Tacoma Road in Tacoma. The agenda: a discussion of the U.S. role in the Gaza crisis. The meeting was organized by Linda Frank of the Northwest Middle East Peace Forum, who has done so much to educate others about Israel/Palestine.
Representing Sen. Murray was Mary McBride; representing Sen. Cantwell was Michael English; representing Rep. Dicks was Clark Mather; representing Rep. Smith was Matt Perry.
The constituents present, in addition to Linda Frank, were Cindy and Craig Corrie (president and treasurer, respectively, of the Rachel Corrie Foundation for Peace and Justice), Sheila Renton (People for Peace, Justice, and Healing), Dennis W. Mills (retired professor of education and an Army veteran), Donna Schumann (Olympia-Rafah Sister City Project), Sallie Shawl (Associated Ministries and People for Peace, Justice, and Healing of Tacoma), Bradford Dilman (professor of international political economy at the University of Puget Sound and author of many publications on the political economy of the Middle East), Evan Welkin (Christian Peacemaker Teams), Sami Matar (a 16-year-old Palestinian exchange student from Gaza attending North Thurston High School in Olympia), Ursula Smirnich, and myself.
For more than an hour, the four congressional state staffers, joined via Blackberry by two D.C. staffers (Jonathan S. Hale, legislative counsel to Sen. Maria Cantwell, and Joshua Jacob, legislative assistant to Sen. Patty Murray), heard remarks on the Gaza crisis, the conflict of which it is a part, and the role of the United States. Those present represented a wealth of knowledge and firsthand experience on the matters discussed, and the staffers listened respectively, without comment.
Craig Corrie then presented six requests to the staffers to be relayed to Senators Murray and Cantwell and Representatives Dicks and Smith: 1) call for an immediate investigation into Israeli violations of U.S. law related to the recent 22-day Gaza war; 2) call for an arms embargo to Israel pending the results of this investigation; 3) focus attention on the urgent need for humanitarian relief to the people of Gaza; 4) send a letter to the Israeli ambassador saying that yesterday's shelling of Gaza was an unacceptable breach of the cease-fire; 5) meet in person to discuss these issues; 6) explore sending a U.S. hospital ship to Gaza as a dramatic gesture on the part of the new administration.
At the conclusion of the meeting, Clark Mather, representing Rep. Norm Dicks, pledged to take the concerns expressed seriously. He offered assurances that he and his colleagues "are not beholden to any pro-Israel group. The fact that we are here proves that." Mary McBride spoke in a similar vein. "This is more than about checking a box," she said, adding that the Obama administration's early moves in this area made her hopeful. She said she hoped the meeting would be one of a number with members of the group on Israel/Palestine, and asked those present to "believe that this is how things happen."
--Mark Jensen believes in repairing the fence after losing a sheep. He is on the faculty of Pacific Lutheran University and a member of United for Peace of Pierce County. The addendum below records notes of points he made at Friday's meeting.
ADDENDUM: ON GAZA, ISRAEL, AND THE U.S.
I am a constituent of Rep. Dicks. I have taught at Pacific Lutheran University for twenty years and am presently chair of the Department of Languages and Literatures. I helped co-found United for Peace of Pierce County, which is in its seventh year. While we have also organized demonstrations and lobbied officials, most of our work has been educational in nature. I have run a weekly study group for four and a half years and am involved with the UFPPC web site, which had more than 3.1 million hits in 2008, up from 2.4 million in 2007 and 1.6 million in 2006.
I think it is fair to make the following statements about the views of our several hundred members.
We have a special interest in international affairs. Our mission statement opposes military unilateralism, and we regard Gaza as a prime example of this, in which the U.S. was involved.
We follow international opinion closely and have a good idea how misinformed the U.S. public is on the Israel/Palestine.
We are tired of the U.S. protecting Israel diplomatically and otherwise from being held accountable for its policies in international forums. Israel owes its existence to the U.N. and cannot reasonably defy its moral and legal authority. We are not naive about the nature of international law and understand that it is a work in progress, but the U.S. should be on the side of that progress.
We want our representatives to no longer be at the beck and call of Israel lobby, which we have studied in some detail. This is really neither a lobby for Israel per se or the views of American Jews, but a lobby for Israeli right-wing parties. We want our representatives to represent their constituents instead. Unanimous and near-unanimous resolutions of support for Israel are clear evidence of dysfunction in our political system.
Perhaps most importantly, we want our representatives to show strong support for moves by President Obama and his new administration that put pressure on Israel to respect human rights and international law.
Speaking for myself, I regard Israel as an unfolding tragedy. I believe that the United States is playing the role of an enabler in the ongoing tragedy of Israel. That such a country, claiming to embody the hopes and aspirations of a people that produced the Hebrew prophets, who spoke truth to power and historically were the first to do so, should act as Israel acted in Gaza during the recent war, is simply appalling. Despite the historical complexity of the situation, its essence is clear: "I and the public know/What all schoolchildren learn,/Those to whom evil is done/Do evil in return," as W.H. Auden put it in his poem "September 1, 1939."
Gaza, for me, was the last straw.
I do not want my government to participate any longer in supporting Israel militarily. I want, instead, support for core American values: liberty and justice for all, and democracy. As for Hamas, the present boycott of Hamas is more illegitimate than Hamas itself, which was democratically elected. We should stop acting as if Palestinians do not have a right to resist oppression.