Rep. Mark Pocan and Ahmed Abu Artema.

Rep. Mark Pocan (D-Wis.) meets with Ahmed Abu Artema in 2019.

(Photo: Jennifer Bing)

Rep Pocan, Can We Talk About Gaza?

With all of your heart and compassion, please do everything in your power to stop Israel from destroying the lives of people in Gaza and call for a cease-fire now.

Dear Rep Mark Pocan,

I would like a do-over.

Last week, I came up to you while you were in the security Iine at the airport in Washington, D.C.

I had deplaned after my flight and had just heard the news that my friend from Gaza, Ahmed Abu Artema, the poet philosopher whose social media post inspired the Great March of Return in 2018, was injured and lying in a hospital, recovering after his home was bombed, likely with weapons provided by the United States. Ahmed lost five members of his family in the attack on his home, including his young son Abdullah.

I was grief stricken.

Losing a child is a horror no parent should bear.

But perhaps you remember Ahmed. I brought him to your office in Madison, Wisconsin, in 2019. Ahmed was in the U.S. on a national speaking tour with the American Friends Service Committee. He came to Wisconsin to share his belief in the power of nonviolence to bring an end to Israeli military occupation and siege. Ahmed shared that to end violence, we must address its root causes.

You are a legislator in the most powerful country in the world. What you do—and fail to do—makes a great deal of difference.

When you two met that snowy day in Madison, you were a compassionate listener. You stated your commitment to end the cruel blockade of Gaza. You told Ahmed about your failed attempt to go to Gaza in 2016, when the Israeli government prevented you from entering, observing, and evaluating U.S.-financed humanitarian work.

While you were denied the opportunity to connect with Palestinians in Gaza who are impacted by U.S. policies, you were able to meet Ahmed. You said in our meeting you would still try to go to Gaza and advocate for ending the blockade, knowing that the situation as described by the United Nations was “unlivable.”

In 2020 and 2021 you led two Dear Colleague letters in Congress, calling on the U.S. administration to restore critical humanitarian aid funding to UNRWA. You wrote, “Building walls does not solve problems… The United States has the moral obligation to call for and demand that humanitarian aid be allowed to enter Gaza and help the millions of people who live there maintain their basic human dignity.”

Yesterday, I spoke to you in the airport through my tears. I told you that Ahmed and his family are victims of this horrible war, and they need a cease-fire now. I pleaded with you to add your name to H.Res. 786 that calls for a cease-fire and humanitarian aid.

I thought you might respond with that same compassion you shared with me and Ahmed in your Madison office. Instead, perhaps because you too are weighed down by deep suffering, your response to me was, “What do you want me to do? I’m not getting on a bill that goes nowhere.”

You told me you have called for a cease-fire on social media.

You told me to bring you an ask that “would make a difference.”

You told me that organizations like mine missed an opportunity by not supporting your October 18 letter to Secretary Antony Blinken and President Joe Biden calling on the United States government to urge the Israeli government to “limit harm to civilians,” restore food, water, fuel, electricity, and other life-saving necessities to Gaza and establish a humanitarian corridor.

We at the American Friends Service Committee share your concern for humanitarian aid reaching the thousands of people displaced, especially given the damage to water infrastructure, no food imports, lack of fuel, and overwhelmed hospitals. But humanitarian assistance can’t be provided without a cease-fire. Your letter did not call for a cease-fire.

Your assertion that signing onto the bill would not make a difference rings hollow. No bill will pass as long as people place political expediency before doing what is right. You are a legislator in the most powerful country in the world. What you do—and fail to do—makes a great deal of difference.

Maybe I could have started my conversation with gratitude for all the many years that you took time to hear from Palestinians in Gaza and from advocates like me here in the U.S. I could have thanked you for your statement on October 18.

But my heart was especially heavy that day. Friends and colleagues are barely surviving in Gaza. Many of them have lost many family members and their homes. My colleague Firas—who is working to distribute relief to people in need—has lost at least 30 family members. My colleague Ali survived being bombed in his home, but lost family members and dozens of his friends. My colleague Serena fled her home after her neighbor’s home was bombed with all family members inside. Friends share devastating news of family members killed and injured, the inability to find food and clean water, and the challenge to calm their children as the explosions continue relentlessly.

And now, as I write, all power has been turned off in Gaza. I can’t reach my friend Ahmed to offer condolences for the death of his son Abdullah. I don’t even know if Ahmed has survived his wounds.

Let me have a do-over. Here is my ask: With all of your heart and compassion, please do everything in your power to stop Israel from destroying the lives of people in Gaza. Use your platform to demand an immediate cease-fire and urge your colleagues to do the same.

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