Pro-Gaza Activism Contrasts with Congressional Votes

November 30, 2009

By Nancy Hedrick

Recent activism and awareness-building events around the Israel-Palestine issue and the ongoing siege in Gaza are in contrast with an unfortunate vote in Congress to support belligerent actions by Israel once again.

Students United for Palestinian Equal Rights (SUPER) held the “Gaza Freedom March Fundraiser” at PSU’s Smith Center on November 6, to collect funds to send two students to the Palestinian region.  Close to a hundred people enjoyed the Arabic dinner and watched a staged reading of “Seven Jewish Children: A Play for Gaza.”  (The same play,  by Caryl Churchill, was shown later the same month at Reed College.)  The statement of one of the students, Sarah Hassouneh, can be found on the national Code Pink web-site about the Gaza march.

Corvallis Activities

Further south, at an OSU event in Corvallis on November 13, Palestinian-American physician and poet Fady Joudah spoke.  In addition to starkly describing his experiences in Africa with Doctors without Borders, Joudah talked of his family heritage and the refugee experience, as depicted in his book The Earth in the Attic. He is also a translator of Mahmoud Darwish, the most famous of Palestinian poet chroniclers, whose long poem “State of Siege” remains as true today as when published earlier this decade.

Upcoming Votes

Around the same time as these university events, significant votes were going on in the U.N. General Assembly and the House of Representatives about the Goldstone Report on Gaza.  Richard Goldstone, a noted international law expert from South Africa who is Jewish and has family living in Israel, was the team leader for a U.N. inquiry into human rights violations on either side around the time of Israel’s attack on Gaza last winter.  Though his team found violations by both parties, the bulk of the final 546-page report detailed massive violations as well as war crimes by Israel.  The General Assembly vote of 114-18 supported the findings of the report, with the U.S. (of course) voting against the resolution.

Also in early November, the House of Representatives approved in an overwhelming fashion a resolution to condemn the Goldstone report (344-46), with the resolution calling the report “irredeemably biased and unworthy of further consideration or legitimacy.”   Symbolic Congressional votes of support for Israel after Israel has been the major perpetrator of violence (such as its attack on Lebanon in 2006) have typically been approved overwhelmingly for several years.

How Oregon Voted

Congressmen Greg Walden and Kurt Schrader voted with the majority, Congressmen Peter DeFazio and Wu gave the non-committed “present” (which is at least a step in the right direction), and only Congressmen Blumenauer and Baird of the Portland/Vancouver metro area voted against the measure.  Congressman Brian Baird, who has visited Gaza, had strong words about the vote, including the following:

What will it say about this Congress and our country if we so readily seek to block “any further consideration” of a human rights investigation produced by one of the most respected jurists in the world today, a man who led the investigations of abuses in South Africa, the former Yugoslavia, Rwanda, Kosovo and worked to identify and prosecute Nazi war criminals as a member of the Panel of the Commission of Enquiry into the Activities of Nazism in Argentina?

At the end of the day, this is also about our own domestic security.  If we are seen internationally as condoning violations of human rights and international law, if our money and our weaponry play a leading role in those violations, and if we reflexively obstruct the findings of someone with the credentials, history and integrity of Justice Goldstone, it can only diminish our international standing and our own security.

Congressman Jim McDermott representing the Seattle area also voted “no”, and signed onto a letter with 20 colleagues asking for Goldstone to testify before Congress.

We should thank Congressmen Blumenauer and Baird for their principled stance, and as well urge the other representatives to vote for justice and peace the next time.

Over 1,400 Palestinians were killed in last winter’s assault, with 13 fatalities on the Israeli side.  Massive and systematic destruction of the Gazan infrastructure, housing, and orchards also occurred.  Because of Israel’s ongoing seige, Gazans have been unable to even begin the process of rebuilding.  Visitors returning to Gaza have noted that almost no war damage has been repaired after four months.  This injustice cries out for our Congress to be less in thrall of AIPAC and other pro-Israel groups.

Show Your Support

To support the PSU students, donate to Friends of Sabeel at P.O. Box 9186, Portland, Oregon 97207, with memo line showing “Gaza Freedom March.”  The students will participate in the Gaza Freedom March (www.gafreedommarch.org) and Viva Palestina Aid Convoys (www.vivapalestina.org).  A copy and review of the “7 Jewish Children” play can be found at Nation site (www.thenation.com/doc/20090413/kushner_solomon).

Peter Miller, of Portland’s Americans United for Palestinian Human Rights (www.auphr.com) assisted with this article.  Jordan Johnson’s blog (http://Johnson Jordan.blogspot.com) was a reference for Joudah’s speech.

Nancy Hedrick is a member of Portland’s Americans United for Palestinian Human Rights and visited the Middle East in 2001 and 2004.

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