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Occupied Territory

Yesterday, Rayburn 2203 felt a bit like Gaza.

Or the West Bank.

It was occupied territory.

Congressman Dennis Kucinich (D-Ohio) was doing what he could to lob a shell at the occupier.

Holding a hearing, as it were, about the humanitarian crisis in Gaza.

Kucinich invited his colleagues, but only one showed up - Congressman Brian Baird (D-Washington.)

Maybe the others were fearful of disproportionate retaliation?

Or collateral damage?

The room was packed with more than 100 people - by appearances, mostly peace activists.

Andrew Whitley, director of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNWRA) and Samer Badawi, director of United Palestinian Appeal, both spoke eloquently about the humanitarian crisis - the need to deliver to the more than one million Gazans food, clothing, medicines, medical care, shelter - you name it, they need it.

Kucinich tried to keep the discussion to the humanitarian crisis, but Badawi and the people in the room kept bringing Kucinich back down to the reality of the Israeli occupation.

Eugene Bird, of the Council for the National Interest, quoted a former UN official as saying - "If the people of Gaza were free, there would be no need for charity."

Badawi made a similar point - five thousand dollars for clothes, or ten thousand dollars for water, or twenty thousand dollars for food just doesn't cut it.

The United States has to change its policy to the Middle East and stop the Israeli occupation.

It was a fascinating 90 minutes.

And here's the thing.

Not one television camera.

Not one.

Now, I pride myself on being a student of the Washington press corps.

Can't tell you how many times I've seen citizen groups call press conferences at the National Press Club.

And no reporters show up.

Not one.

Often, I show up just to show support and to sympathize.

These citizen groups do all the right things.

They call all the reporters.

They put their event on the Reuters and Associated Press daybooks. (Those are the wire service calendars that reporters look to early every morning to see what's happening and to plan their days.)

And still, no coverage.

But here's the deal about the Kucinich hearing on Gaza.

Kucinich's office didn't even notify the press.

There was no press release.

The Reuters and Associated Press daybooks were not notified.

Maybe had C-Span been notified, they would have covered it.

Maybe Al-Jazeera would have covered it.

Maybe even some American television reporters would have covered it.

After all, it was a rare event - a hearing on Palestine right smack dab in the middle of occupied territory.

They could have covered it the way they cover Haley's comet.

So, during the question period, I ask Kucinich - Dennis, why didn't you notify the media?

Kucinich looks surprised, turns to his press secretary, Nathan White.

"Didn't we put out a press release?" Kucinich asks.

White says there was no press release.

The daybooks were not notified.

"We wanted to get the word out person to person - by word of mouth."

White says I should see him after the event.

A woman from Code Pink stands up and tries to sympathize with Kucinich.

She says she understands the pressure that AIPAC must be putting on members of Congress who raise any question in the occupied territory that is Capitol Hill.

Kucinich responds by saying that the power of AIPAC was "outside the scope of the meeting."

Citizens in the audience wanted to know - what if Netanyahu gets elected as prime minister on February 10 and seeks to fulfill his promise to eradicate Hamas?

"He will have to first talk to President Obama and Secretary Clinton," Kucinich says.

Kucinich said that he doubted that they would allow a renewed Israeli attack on Gaza.

The crowd is skeptical.

Afterward, I track down White - Kucinich's press guy.

He says his office didn't alert the press because they didn't want the meeting to become "a show."

Okay, so Kucinich is boxed in.

But then, so are we.

Time to break out, no?

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