Fifty-four members of the US House of Representatives have sent a letter to President Obama urging him “to use diplomatic pressure to resolve the blockade affecting Gaza.”
Initially drafted by Democrats Keith Ellison, Minnesota, and Jim McDermott, Washington, the letter says, in part:
The unabated suffering of Gazan civilians highlights the urgency of reaching a resolution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and we ask you to press for immediate relief for the citizens of Gaza as an urgent component of your broader Middle East peace efforts. . . . The current blockade has severely impeded the ability of aid agencies to do their work to relieve suffering.
Fifty-two other members of the House joined Ellison and McDermott in signing the letter, a dramatic increase in congressional voices defying the powerful Israel Lobby.
The Minnesota Independent‘s story on the letter from the 54 House members lists the members by their home states. Some states are notable by their absence.
In Illinois, for example, the president’s home state, no member of either party supported the resolution. California and Massachusetts, in contrast, has eleven and six members, respectively, as signees.
Former Illinois Congressman Paul Findley praised the House members for their courage. Speaking from experience, Findley told Helene Cobban, former Middle Eastern correspondent for the Christian Science monitor, that it was “an extraordinary step for 54 House members to stand up to the Lobby.”
“We haven’t seen so many members of Congress prepared to stand together behind a resolution critical of Israel since the 1970s,”, Findley told Cobban, who now runs a blog published by the Council on the National Interest, a non profit Washington-based organization which Findley co-founded in 1989.
Findley lost his House seat as a member of the Illinois delegation in 1982, abruptly rejected by the voters after serving his district for 22 years.
Findley’s defeat came when AIPAC supported Dick Durbin, a young Springfield Democratic attorney running against him after Findley openly called on then-President Ronald Reagan to open relations with the Palestine Libration Organization.
In 1985, Findley published They Dare to Speak Out: People and Institutions Confront Israel’s Lobby, in which he described what has become a classic case study of how AIPAC targets members of Congress who fail to adhere to the Israel Lobby line.
AIPAC-inspired funds poured into Durbin’s campaign treasury. Later elected to the US Senate. Durbin is now the Senate’s Majority Whip.
Looking back at AIPAC’s role in removing him from his seat in the House, Findley recalls that in the 1970s, he was one of only two or three members of Congress prepared to speak candidly about Palestine and Israel.
For that number to grow to at least 54 in 2010 is a measure of how slowly public perception changes. It also demonstrates that in time, light will finally dawn on the uninformed.
Few persons in public life have demonstrated and written about this “dawning experience” and what follows, with the zeal and persuasiveness of Howard Zinn, the noted radical historian whose book, A People’s History of the United States, has “changed the way we look at history in America” (Democracy Now).
Zinn died suddenly Wednesday, January 27, at the age of 87, leaving behind a legacy of support for the voiceless and the oppressed peoples of the world. Remarkably, Zinn had been slow to discover the Israeli-Palestinian issue.
He described his experience in a short essay he wrote for Tikkun magazine’s May-June, 2008 issue, published in rememberance of modern Israel’s 60th anniversary.
I was not long out of the Air Force when in 1947 the U.N. adopted a partition plan for Palestine, and in 1948, Israel, fighting off Arab attacks, declared its independence.
Though not a religious Jew at all, indeed hostile to all organized religions, I had an indefinable feeling of satisfaction that the Jews, so long victims and wanderers, would now have a “homeland.” It did not occur to me–so little did I know about the Middle East–that the establishment of a Jewish state meant the dispossession of the Arab majority that lived on that land.
I was as ignorant of that as, when in school, I was shown a classroom map of American “Western Expansion” and assumed the white settlers were moving into empty territory. In neither case did I grasp that the advance of “civilization” involved what we would today call “ethnic cleansing.”
It was only after the “Six-Day War” of 1967 and Israel’s occupation of territories seized in that war (the West Bank, the Gaza Strip, the Golan Heights, the Sinai peninsula) that I began to see Israel not simply as a beleaguered little nation surrounded by hostile Arab states, but as an expansionist power.
In 1967 I was totally engaged in the movement against the war in Vietnam. I had long since understood that the phrases “national security” and “national defense” were used by the United States government to justify aggressive violence against other countries.
Indeed, there was a clear bond between Israel and the United States in their respective foreign polices, illustrated by the military and economic support the United States was giving to Israel, and by Israel’s tacit approval of the U.S. war in Vietnam.
True, Israel’s claim of “security,” given its geographical position, seemed to have more substance than the one made by the U.S. government, but it seemed clear to me that the occupation and subjugation of several million Palestinians in the occupied territories did not enhance Israel’s security but endangered it.
Zinn was a professor at Boston University when one afternoon he was involved in a “spirited discussion of the Israel-Palestine conflict I was having with my large lecture class.”
What erupted in that class was what many lesser mortals remember as a moment of ‘conversion” on the issue.
A number of Jewish students were fervently defending the Occupation, whereupon two young women who had been silent up to that point rose, one after the other, to say something like the following:
“We are from Israel. We served in the Israeli army. We want to say to you who love Israel that the occupation of the West Bank and Gaza will lead to the destruction of Israel, if not physically, then morally and spiritually.”
Words to ponder for the 381 members of the House who failed to sign the McDermott-Ellison letter.
The picture above of Gaza children is from the Middle East Monitor web site. Howard Zinn’s picture is from the AP.