Crossposted on Muslim Matters:
I wrote this last year, but with today’s events, thought it timely for a refresh:
Growing up, I was a serious news junkie and always felt a sympathy for the Palestinians as an underdog and just out of an innate sense of justice. After the collapse of President Clinton’s last ditch peace initiative, the Ariel Sharon years, President George W. Bush’s ineffectual policy of the last eight years, and incessant coverage and outrage from the Muslim community on the issue to the exclusion of other issues, I had become disillusioned with the Israel/Palestine issue.
So it was with some Gaza-fatigue trepidation that I ventured out to watch a short film shot by Rep. Ellison and his colleague Rep. Brian Baird on their last trip in February to Gaza at the Capitol building in Washington DC. There are links to the film on Ellison’s website and some extended interviews.
Rep. Keith Ellison began his opening remarks with a couple of St. Patrick’s Day remarks and references and then quickly moved to the topic of Gaza by saying three times, “Open up the Crossings!” Ellison also remarked that having the crossings closed and the ensuing humanitarian crisis was not the will of the American people and that it undermined both American and Israel’s own security. He also emphatically stated that settlement expansion must halt immediately. He mentioned that while he and Rep. Baird were processed through the Erez Crossing very quickly he noticed German relief workers waiting at the crossing in the morning and when the Congressmen returned in the afternoon, the relief workers were still waiting to get through the crossing.
Ellison mentioned that while the Palestinians are not starving, severe restrictions have been placed to limit which goods are allowed to enter the Gaza Strip. Cooking oil and rice are allowed while macaroni and lentils are on the banned list. He asked a senior Israeli official about the restrictions and the official said he did not know specifically about the macaroni and lentils restriction but that he would look into it and that the policy of the Israeli government was to put the Palestinians in Gaza “on a diet”.
Vehicle fuel is also excluded so that both Reps. saw a lot of animal-pulled carts on the streets. Ellison and Baird also visited Sderot, an Israeli settlement, which is less than mile from Gaza, and bears the brunt of rocket fire from Gaza. Ellison mentioned that we should not “pooh pooh or try to minimize the terrifying existence” and fear of rocket fire that is experienced by the people of Sderot nor of Gaza. And that the fighting and rocket fire is having a huge psychological impact on the children on both sides of the conflict.
The Q&A portion yielded some interesting comments:
Ellison emphasized that while there are well-funded constituencies to stand up for rights of either the Israelis or for the Palestinians that there is a great need for a middle way, a constituency to stand up for a “just peace” so that the politicians in Congress feel they are able to advocate their conscience more freely and to help reduce the influence of powerful interest groups.
Ellison, then prefaced his next comments by saying, “Please don’t shout me down” and mentioned that he had never been shouted down by Christians nor by Jews but only by his own Muslim brethren. Continue reading