Can US Congress see beyond the orchestration and opulence in Tel Aviv?
Americans are frustrated, angry and disappointed in the political leadership of our country. We are enduring one crisis after another: housing, war, jobs, budget, debt and deficit. We are also shouldering our own personal and professional crises. We are governed by political ideologies that are inflexible, uncompromising and that ignore the long-term well-being of our country.
Yet, with all of these pressing and unrelenting national challenges, a record 81 House members, about a fifth of the chamber, spent a week in Israel last month, courtesy of a foundation set up by the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), the largest pro-Israel lobby group in the US.
As a participant in the Interfaith Peace-Builders’ African Heritage Delegation to Israel/Palestine, who recently returned from a two-week fact-finding study tour, I can attest that Israelis have their own urgent and pressing issues to deal with: ongoing maintenance of the 63-year-old occupation (yes, it dates to the 1948 ethnic cleansing of approximately 750,000 Palestinians), expensive and unjust military rule over the Palestinian people in the occupied West Bank and Gaza Strip, seized in 1967, massive Israeli youth protests regarding the rising cost of housing, food, and gas, and the ongoing oppression of Jews of color and Palestinians citizens of Israel.
Congressman Jesse Jackson, Jr., one of the Democrats who visited Israel, said that he was looking forward to learning about Israel’s business and commercial sectors as well as the latest tools and technology the country is using to fight terror, but what did he really see? I doubt he saw and experienced what the 14 members of the African Heritage Delegation witnessed.
More than likely, his delegation saw and experienced the beauty and opulence of Tel Aviv. They enjoyed the finest of foods and perhaps sampled wines from the colonized Golan Heights. They probably witnessed well-orchestrated military exercises and political speeches. I suspect they did not hear, as we did, from Palestinians who are displaced from their homes, whose lands, farms and olive trees have been confiscated or from the mothers who worry about their sons being bullied, abused and imprisoned by the Israeli police using the most technologically advanced counterinsurgency practices.
I’m sure they did not see, as my delegation did, the rationing of water to Palestinians, the daily blackouts of electricity or the lack of health care services to the elderly or those suffering from post-traumatic occupation stress syndrome. No doubt, they did not meet Palestinians, as we did, in Hebron who live each day under the assault of angry, militant Jewish settlers.
Democracy means more than voting rights
House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, who led one of two Republican delegations, stated, “I am pleased to be bringing so many of our new Members of Congress to Israel so that they can learn firsthand about Israel and the important role our key ally plays in the Middle East. The United States and Israel share similar core values of democracy, human rights and a strong national defense.”
Yet Israel is not living up to the definition of a democracy. Israel has dominated Palestinians for 63 years while illegally occupying the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, and Gaza for the past 44 years. It routinely denies full participation of Palestinian citizens of Israel. Inside Israel, it is well documented that Jews of color (Sephardi and Mizrahi Jews), African Palestinians and non-Jewish residents are treated as second- and third-class citizens with diminished human and civil rights. Democracy means more than voting rights for Palestinian citizens. There must be equality under the law, yet that is significantly absent in Israel and dramatically lacking in how Israel administers the occupied West Bank and Gaza Strip.
There is simply too much at stake in America for our congressional members to meet with Israeli and Palestinian leaders without the complete picture of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The situation is vastly different from the one Israel’s prime minister depicted recently to Congress.
What if we stopped the $3 billion in aid?
What if we stopped the $3 billion in aid we give to Israel annually and used the savings to create a national jobs-deficit reduction program? Our African Heritage Delegation believes, as many Americans do, that we need a jobs growth and deficit reduction program here at home now. This is the time to reallocate financial resources to American families and communities and to fix our obsolete, dilapidated infrastructure.
The two-tier system of law Israel has established in the occupied West Bank, documented by Human Rights Watch, recalls the Jim Crow laws of the American South and the discriminatory practices of apartheid South Africa. Our members of Congress should loudly reject such discrimination. And they should spend more time with constituents in dire need of their leadership as well as modeling democratic values in their respective congressional districts.
Rev. Carolyn L. Boyd lives in Alexandria, Virginia.