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Profiles in Courage: US Lawmakers Stand Up for Moral Justice in Middle East
Published on Sunday, May 5, 2002 in the Arab News (Saudi Arabia)
Profiles in Courage: US Lawmakers Stand Up for Moral Justice in Middle East
by Barbara Ferguson
 

WASHINGTON — It is easy, in a broad sweep, to believe that all of America’s elected Congressmen and Senators are pro-Israeli extremists. And, reading the mainstream media here, it would be difficult to assume otherwise.

Just this week, pro-Israel lawmakers pushed though a resolution that supported Israel’s incursions into Palestinian territories, and apparently endorsed as justifiable the brutality and bloodshed the Israeli Army inflicted on the unarmed civilians there.

It is important to note that there are lawmakers in Congress who are men and women of conscience, who oppose Israel’s aggression, believe in the importance of the US maintaining a genuine "honest broker" status, believe that Palestinians must have their own homeland, and are working for a comprehensive peace in the Middle East.

The following is a compilation by Arab News of those men and women in Congress who bravely spoke out for justice in the Middle East last week.

Rep. Nick Rahall, D-West Virginia

"Mr. Speaker, here we go again. Here we go again. How many times has this body passed resolutions of this nature that are so unbalanced, so one-sided, that we become the laughingstock of the world? How many times have we passed resolutions of this nature? Do we have peace today? Do we have peace today?

"I support the state of Israel. I do not support the brutal humiliating policies of Ariel Sharon... Yes, Israel is our ally... But... we need other allies in the region as well.

"What about the moderate Arab allies that want to help us, to whom we only cast further embarrassment today by the passage of these one-sided resolutions? Let us not shut the door... on those allies of ours around the world... who want to help... Israel stop these brutal acts against innocent civilians...

"The important question that we must ask is how Israel must protect itself. The first step is to acknowledge its role in creating the violent conditions in the region. The time has come to stop blaming everything on (Yasser) Arafat.

"Continued humiliation is not the solution. This is the method of operation of bullies, not of those who want to return to the peace process, to the negotiating table.

"The bottom line is we cannot dispossess a people and then attempt to govern them by occupying their land, by forcing them to subsist in refugee camps, by blocking roadways to their jobs, by refusing access to medical attention, by cutting them off from their schools and universities, and by discounting their humanity. This is not the roadway to peace."

Rep. Jim Moran, D-Virginia

"I... oppose this resolution because it is unbalanced and ...counterproductive. It doesn’t reference President Bush’s words and America’s foreign policy that Israel must withdraw from the Palestinian-controlled territories before peace can be achieved.

"President Bush called ‘for Israel to halt incursions into Palestinian-controlled areas and begin the withdrawal from these cities it has recently occupied.’ This country supports UN resolution 242 and Israel’s unwillingness to comply is a contributing factor to the cycle of despair..."

Rep. John Dingell, D-Michigan

"Today we are debating yet another irresponsible Congressional resolution that does absolutely nothing to help end the violence that plagues the Israeli and Palestinian people. I rise in opposition to this resolution, which at a very delicate time undermines the Bush administration’s efforts to ease tensions, end violence, and bring about a fair peace that will be acceptable and beneficial to Israelis and Palestinians. This resolution sends exactly the wrong signal at this perilous time. It will only further fan the flames of violence, increase regional instability, and compromises our war on terrorism.

"The administration needs Congress to support its efforts to engage both the Israelis and Palestinians as an honest broker that sees the death of any innocent human being as a tragedy and threat to the long-term interests of the parties involved, our regional allies, and the United States. Congress must stand for peace, for it is peace alone that will benefit Israel, Palestine, and the United States.

"The administration does not need Congress to pass one-sided, provocative measures that undermine US diplomacy and our ability to address this problem, which has proven to be a cancer on Israel, Palestine, the region, and US diplomacy.

"Passage of House Resolution 392 will undermine the administration, diminish US leverage with the Palestinians, and further damage US credibility in the region. If the US fails to act as a peace proponent now, there will most certainly be a leadership vacuum in the region..."

Rep. Lois Capps, D-California

"It is not right to simply voice our personal emotions and not advance our national interests. This resolution should be stronger.

"First, it should recognize the suffering of the Palestinian people. Many of the 1,500 Palestinians killed in this conflict are not terrorists or fighters, but innocent people.

"Surely, the United States of America and its Congress should consider the death of an innocent child to be equally tragic — whether she is Israeli or Palestinian; Jewish, Christian, or Muslim.

"Second, Congress should forcefully support strong US engagement in pursuit of a negotiated long-term settlement to the conflict. We are here to offer solutions, not merely to express emotions.

"Today, the United States is engaged in a critical war against terrorism. In my view, the fight against global terror will only be strengthened when we secure a just and lasting peace agreement between Israel and the Palestinians. For the sake of the Israeli and Palestinian peoples — and for our own sake — the US government must be an honest, credible leader toward the path of peace. Our national interests give us no alternative."

Rep. David Price, D-North Carolina

"The resolution before us falls far short of the kind of expression that might best contribute to stopping the violence and moving toward a long-term settlement. The resolution appears designed to drive a ‘wedge’ among supporters of Israel for partisan purposes, and it risks misrepresenting the rationale behind the current efforts of President Bush and Secretary Powell to bring the parties together.

"A more adequate resolution would reiterate our support both for the security and integrity of Israel and for justice and self-determination for the Palestinians. It would back a vigorous, sustained American peacemaking role. It would affirm Israel’s right to self-defense, while noting the obligation to distinguish between uprooting terrorism and destroying the institutions and infrastructure of Palestinian self-government..."

Rep. Peter DeFazio, D-Oregon

"The increasingly hard line being taken by the Israeli government, and the current military offensive being conducted by Sharon, will do nothing to bring about lasting peace in the region.

"I am also concerned that the totally one-sided resolution being considered on the House floor today does nothing to enhance US leadership in the region, and, in fact, could actually harm our ability to broker a permanent peace. I offered a truly balanced resolution, House Resolution 394, which would help send the message that the US is committed to a negotiated settlement. Unfortunately, we are not being allowed to debate alternatives today...

"Mr. Arafat has utterly failed in his multiple commitments to crack down on militants. He failed to seize an opportunity offered by President Clinton to create a Palestinian state. His leadership has been connected to terrorist organizations.

"But, prior to his election, Mr. Sharon intentionally visited a disputed holy site in Jerusalem in order to provoke a violent response. He has always been a vocal opponent of the Oslo peace process. He has advocated continued expansion of Jewish settlements in Palestinian territories. He ordered the Israeli military to reoccupy various Palestinian cities with weapons provided by US taxpayers.

"I urge all parties to recognize that continued military attacks and terrorist activities will only lead to persistent, escalating violence with the potential to destabilize the entire Middle East.

"I urge all parties to stop using state-controlled media or other means of propaganda to incite hatred and violence.

"The United States must maintain sustained, high-level diplomatic engagement. The United States must bring the Israelis and Palestinians back to the negotiating table. It has become obvious to all but Sharon and Arafat and their most ardent followers that there is no military solution to this conflict. Hundreds of reservists in the Israeli Defense Forces are refusing to serve in the Palestinian territories because they understand there is no military solution....

"I intend to vote against the unbalanced resolution on the floor today because it does nothing to advance peace."

Rep. Jay Inslee, D-Washington

"America’s ability to fulfill our manifest destiny as the only possible honest broker in the Middle East is damaged, is diminished, by a starkly one-sided resolution, a resolution that rightfully expresses our permanent unalterable national commitment to the security of Israel in its hour of trial, but wrongfully excludes any reference of our recognition, or our interest in recognizing, the legitimate aspirations of the Palestinian people for a viable Palestinian nation of their own. This is our explicit national policy, but it is intentionally omitted for political purposes...

"We would speak up when our brother makes a judgment to his own harm, so we ought to speak out and say that the continued expansionist policy of settlement growth in the West Bank is hurting Israel. And our acquiescence, our silence, in this resolution hurts Israel and does not serve her true vision of high moral values for which we have always admired her."

Rep. David Bonior, D-Michigan

"Mr. Speaker, I rise in strong opposition to House Resolution 392. I do so because it undermines the administration’s desire to achieve a cease-fire, it undermines our efforts to ultimately broker a lasting and just resolution to the Arab-Israeli conflict and it runs counter to what is in our best interest in the Middle East.

"However, this resolution blindly supports Israel’s actions against the Palestinians and wholly denies the generations of suffering of the Palestinian people.

"This would be wrong at any time, but in light of what has happened in Jenin, Bethlehem, Ramallah, Haifa, Jerusalem, Netanya — what continues to happen — this resolution is dangerous.

"Like most Americans, I support Israel. However, also just like most Americans, I do not support — and will not support — all Israeli policies.

"What of the suffering of the Palestinian people?

"What of the history of land confiscation, water rights, torture, settlements, collective punishment, home demolitions, curfews, administrative detentions and expulsions?

"Where is the language about well over a thousand Palestinians killed in the last 19 months — bodies found under the rubble?

"Where is the language about the thousands made homeless by the bulldozers in Jenin alone?

"Where is the language about relief agencies denied access to treat the sick and wounded?

"We also know that relief agencies (including the International Committee of the Red Cross) were prevented from reaching, evacuating, and treating the sick and wounded throughout the West Bank resulting in untold deaths.

"From the mother who bled to death from a normally non-fatal wound in front of her children — to the couple buried alive under the rubble for eight days — the stories are coming to light and they are horrific.

"Rarely is there discussion on this floor of the nearly 420 Palestinian villages destroyed at the time of Israel’s founding in 1948.

"Or the 3.8 million refugees registered by the United Nations and the estimated two million others not registered.

"Palestinians live in 59 different recognized refugee camps in poverty and with no hope in sight for a brighter future for the next generation born in the camps.

Sen. Jeff Bingaman, D-New Mexico

"I intend to vote for the resolution, but I felt it necessary to explain my own views on the issue so that my vote and my position on the current Middle East situation is fully understood.

"I strongly agree with the main thrust of the resolution... The portion of the resolution that causes me to come to the floor and speak, however, is the provision that implies our blanket support for any and all actions that Israel may choose to take in this fight against terrorism.

"In my opinion, this recent occupation of Palestinian territories by Israeli troops is an obstacle to renewed negotiations for peace between Israel and the Palestinians, and it is very much in the interest of everyone involved that Israel withdraw those troops.

"I want to also point out one other shortcoming of this resolution that we are about to adopt. That is that it says nothing about the need to assist the Palestinian people to live lives marked by peace and a reasonable standard of living. It is essential that the entire Palestinian people not be allowed to lose hope that some reconciliation between themselves and the Israelis can be achieved.

"While the United States has a unique relationship with Israel, as a superpower it also has a unique responsibility to bring the two sides together. We will lose that opportunity if we fail to acknowledge our concern and responsibility for the well being of the Palestinian people."

Rep. Amory Houghton, R-New York

"I’m going to support this resolution, but will do so reluctantly because I think that it’s bad timing. We’re in the middle of sensitive negotiations, and this resolution could do some damage.

"Of course we support Israel, but we also support our moderate Arab friends, and this bill is unbalanced in that regard."

Rep. Marcy Kaptur, D-Ohio

"Mr. Speaker, I rise today in the cause of peace and to express my concern about the content and the timing of this resolution, and I urge my colleagues to vote "present."

"Just before we adjourned last year, I introduced House Resolution 328, a bill expressing the sense of Congress that during the holiday season peace should be America’s top priority in the Middle East. I was greatly disappointed; in fact I was shocked, that the leadership refused to bring up such a mild but hopeful bill on this floor. They never considered peace a priority.

"If Congress truly wants to encourage peace, then let us do it constructively.

"I agree with the gentleman from Texas (Rep. DeLay) that hundreds more innocent Israelis and Palestinians have died tragically in the ongoing violence. But his one-sided resolution will only fan the killing frenzy. It offers no encouragement for the Arab states to have a place at the peace table.

"Israel cannot make peace alone. This resolution envisions no Palestinian state as key in the peace process. At its worst, I fear it represents crass domestic politics in this election year.

"Instead of supporting our ally, Israel, this resolution further endangers the delicate balance so necessary to bring peace to the entire region. Let us be a true partner for peace, not just with Israel but as well with the Arab states in the region, surely those that have suffered bloodshed in their common cause with Israel, for a just and lasting peace.

Sen. Robert C. Byrd, D-West Virginia

"The Middle East remains a tinderbox. Even the slightest spark could ignite another conflagration.

"This is not a time for chest-thumping rhetoric. This is a time for quiet diplomacy, measured speech, and clear direction. This is not the moment for Congress to stir the Mideast pot.

"The White House has strongly urged Congress not to inflame passions by staging a vote on Israel. The fear is that even a symbolic vote by Congress in favor of Israel will jeopardize the already precarious role of the United States in the Middle East peace negotiations, and could even backfire by aggravating tensions — and possibly provoking more violence — in the Middle East.

"Nowhere in this resolution is Israel called upon to fulfill its role in working for peace in the Middle East. This resolution condemns the Palestinian suicide bombings, demands that the Palestinian Authority dismantle the terrorist infrastructure in Palestinian areas, and urges all Arab states to act in concert with the US to stop the violence.

"Where are the demands that Israel withdraw from Palestinian lands and cooperate in the establishment of a Palestinian state? Where is the denunciation of the destruction of homes and water lines and roads and basic infrastructure in Jenin and Nablus and elsewhere in the West Bank? Where is the expression of support for humanitarian and reconstruction aid to the innocent Palestinian victims of Israel’s incursion into the West Bank?

"If the Senate is serious about promoting peace in the Middle East — and I believe to the depths of my soul that we are — then we should leave the grandstanding to others. We should support the real work of peace keeping. For better or worse, the United States has been cast in the role of honest broker in the Middle East... This is not the time for the United States Senate to wade into the fray waving a sledgehammer in the form of an ill-timed, ill-advised, and one-sided resolution, and I intend to vote against it."

Rep. Lloyd Doggett, D-Texas

"My vote in solidarity with the State of Israel should not be read as a vote in solidarity with the policies of Sharon that I view as misguided and counterproductive. My support for Israel is long-standing, but Sharon is not "Israel." He was wrong in rejecting the successful peace process in Oslo, in rejecting President Clinton’s efforts at Camp David in 2000, in rejecting the talks between Israelis and Palestinians at Taba, Egypt in January 2001, and he was wrong in Sabra and Shatila. Without approving in any way actions of some of his adversaries or condoning their violence, he is wrong in continuing to reject measured answers to the Middle East crisis.

"This is not the resolution that I would have drafted, but no amendments were permitted to it. This resolution fails to recognize the legitimate aspirations of the Palestinian people to live in peace and security or to acknowledge that innocent Palestinians also lost lives and homes.

"The administration’s months of inattention, indecision, and unwillingness to engage in the Middle East made a bad situation worse. Mr. President, heed Secretary Powell and General Zinni’s counsel. Lead our foreign policy yourself — do not cede this critical mission to Sharon and (House Majority Whip) Tom DeLay."

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