Monday, June 11, 2007

Meetings with aides of NC elected officials

By Susan O.

June 11, 2007- These legislative visits were arranged through END THE OCCUPATION website.

Senator Burr’s office

This was listed on the contact website as a meeting at 8:30, but the actual meeting was due to start at 9 AM. I did this so that the group would have a chance to meet ahead of time to discuss issues and strategies. Unfortunately, I got a little lost on the way to the meeting and got there at 8:45. I contacted Bob at 8:30 to say I was running late, and he said Mary was still parking the car. There were five other people there for the meeting, so Kevin Hernandez, the aide to Senator Burr went ahead and started meeting with the other people, since they thought the meeting started at 8:30. Bob, Mary and I were there at 9 AM and when we found out that Mr. Hernandez was already in a meeting, we asked to join them, since I was pretty sure that it was the meeting that I had scheduled.

This was unfortunate that it worked out this way, and I will not list a prior meeting time without instructions again. I apologize to the whole group for this miscommunication.

So, I was considerably late for the meeting and Cheri will be providing the group with talking points and will be writing a letter to Mr. Hernandez. I will follow up also, but she has a more complete report than I do. This is my notes from the part of the meeting I attended. (I have not received a report from her, but if I do, I will update this blog post.)

There were a total of eight people there: Cheri, Bob, Mary, Miriam, Dick, myself and two others whose names I do not have at this time. I told Mr. Hernandez that I would get some documentation to him on the US funding and arms going to Fatah in Palestine. I spoke about the Israeli Committee Against House Demolition, and how four local church groups in the Asheville area are raising funds to rebuild one house each. I covered how the media was not an honest and fair broker in the Israel and Palestinian issues, and I offered to get him a copy of the DVD put out by “If Americans Knew”.

The group told me that they had covered the cluster bomb issues and discussed legislation around this. They also told me that they covered the appointment of a special envoy to the Middle East proposal. They had also covered Iraq and related issues. Cheri will be doing a fuller report on the meeting. I pointed out to Mr. Hernandez that you make peace with your enemies, not your friends, and that we needed to remember that many of those who support checkpoints and walls are very, very fearful people, and that needs to be addressed. The Israelis have a right to live without fear and violent actions directed at them. I also discussed how the US government was shutting out Hamas, in spite of their professed belief in “democracy”. The Hamas government was democratically elected in free and fair elections.

The meeting at Senator Dole’s office was with her aide Mr. Arjun Mody. Present were Bob, Mary, Mariam, Dick, Cheri, myself and Beth. Beth had gone to the training that morning provided by United for Peace and Justice on lobbying. Beth had also just returned from a visit to the West Bank, organized by Fellowship of Reconciliation. Beth lives near me, and I already knew her. She has been interested, as her husband has been, for a long time in Palestinian issues.

We started by listening to Mr. Mody tell us what Senator Dole’s positions on Israel and Palestine are. She supports a two state solution with Jerusalem as the capital of Israel. She supports maintaining the territorial integrity of Israel, and that she feels terrorists have taken over the Hamas government.

We had some discussion around Senator Feinstein’s bill (S. 594) which is the Cluster Munitions Civilians Protection Act of 2007. The group felt that US aid to Israel should be contingent on the stopping the use of cluster bombs, and we talked about how the cluster bombs used in Lebanon were marked “made in the USA” and how that just increases hatred towards America without any benefit to us at all. The issue of cluster bombs related to the Arms Export Control Act and the Foreign Assistance Act. We discussed how we feel that the US government has not held Israel accountable for their actions, and this increases the world’s perception that of our favoritism of Israel. We need to be a fair and honest broker, and felt the appointment of an envoy for Middle East peace might help us in this direction, even though under the Bush administration this would not be likely. However, as many Middle East experts have stated, we have to start working for peace now, not after an election in 2008.

We felt the money we give to Israel should be contingent on abiding by UN resolutions, stopping building settlements in the West Bank, stop withholding tax payments to the Palestinians and to stop building the wall inside the 1967 Green line. We also felt that citizens of Israel are much better informed on these issues than people in the USA, due to the poor coverage of our media.

We discussed Israeli Committee Against Home Demolitions (ICHAD) and how they have their USA base in North Carolina. I told him about local church groups are working on raising funds for rebuilding some homes this 40th year of occupation. The ICHAD intends to rebuild all homes demolished by the Israeli government this year.

I discussed the website “Remember These Children” and expressed the opinion that all the adults who participated in killing of either Israeli or Palestinian children should be in prison. This is a horror that must be stopped. I also discussed how desperate people will do desperate things, and presented the examples of Iraqi children building bombs to support their families and an Afghan father who said that he would join the Taliban because his children are starving.

I said that the US government was arming and funding Fatah, and I said I would bring him some documentation on this by the end of the week.

Beth told about the checkpoints that cut off Palestinians off from healthcare and their olive groves. They are building settlements over the aquifer, and often the wall cuts in to keep access to water on the Israeli side. Often times the 30 foot high wall completely surrounds a Palestinian town that is completely inside of the West Bank.

Miriam went on to say that we have to change the politics in the area to make the future possible for Palestinian and Israeli children. We need to dialogue to achieve peace.

The final meeting was with Mr. Sean O’Brien, the aide from Rep. Shuler’s office. Beth and I attended this meeting, and it was the most positive meeting of the day. We voiced our support for HR 143, the appointment of an envoy for Middle East peace. We voiced our support for HR 1755, which limits the sale, use and transfer of cluster munitions. Mr. O’Brien said that the main reason (the US does not support the limitations of cluster bombs) is that South Korea is defended by landmines, which is another form of cluster bombs. We also discussed Iraq and that we do not support further funding for the occupation of Iraq. I want the US troops to come home NOW.

I said I would get him information on the US funding of Fatah in Palestine later this week, and I gave him a copy of the DVD from “If Americans Knew. Beth told him about her travels in the West Bank, especially Bethlehem and the effects of the wall on life and the livelihood of Palestinians. I gave Mr. O’Brien a small wooden pin of a peace dove, which was made in Bethlehem out of olive trees that had been bulldozed by Israeli authorities by US-made bulldozers. We discussed Rachel Corrie and left information on her stands. (We actually did this at all three offices.) Beth said she will get him an updated map on the Israeli settlements and the building of the Israeli wall in the West Bank. She will mail this to him.

At all three of the offices I visited today, I left a pile of postcards about the Iraq occupation. There were over 150 postcards in the stack and they all asked that the occupation of Iraq be ended. These were printed by the WNC Peace Coalition and gathered in the last couple of months from locals.

AFTERWARDS, Beth and I went to the FCNL building and took a short tour. It is a beautiful building. It is located just across from the Senate office buildings.

More information on the website End The Occupation. Also, I have reports on my blog about their rally and march on June 10, 2007.


Follow-up letter to Dole (similar letters to Burr and Shuler):

June 14, 2007

Dear Mr. Mody,

Thank you for meeting with our group on Monday concerning Israeli and Palestinian issues. I know that Cheri will be writing a more formal letter that will cover the talking points we presented and actions that we would like Senator Dole to take, but I wanted to take a minute to say thank you also.

I do hope we can make positive, concrete steps to secure the stability of the area in non-violent means. This is why I think sending more arms to Fatah is an extremely poor idea, since this will lead to more bloodshed and violence in the area, and that will make any settlement between Israel and Palestine much more difficult. It does, however, produce more profits for arms manufacturers in the USA, which I think is the real point of sending more arms over there. This is shameful.

I have enclosed a few articles on the sending of arms to Fatah. There is more information on the web. There was one incident where Hamas intercepted a shipment to Fatah from the US authorities, but this was not an arms shipment. It was other material support.

A presenter at the US Senate Committee on Intelligence meeting on June 12, 2007 told the Senators that the Hamas government has denounced al Qaeda and it’s terrorists tactics. The Hamas government does not want to be associated with bin Laden or al Qaeda at all, per her research and report.

Thank you again for meeting with us. I have included a pin of a peace dove made in Bethlehem from an olive tree. This tree was bulldozed by the Israeli authorities by US-made bulldozers that we sent to Israel. I found it very touching that the Palestinians took this act of violence and destruction and turned it into a symbol of peace.

Sincerely, Susan

FOLLOW UP: I did deliver information on the fact that US authorities are arming and funding Fatah in Palestine. This was on June 14, and done when I dropped off the thank you letters. By the time I delivered this information, it was pretty well known in the corporate media. I have ordered more copies of “If Americans Knew” and will be sharing these with Beth and others in the community.

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