Capitol Hill Briefing 8/1

The Israeli bombardment in Gaza has intensified over the past couple of days, and the deaths are mounting. Friends in the United States are asking “What can we do?”

Just asking the question is important. My friends are paying attention and care. We can each make a difference!

Here’s one tangible action every American should take now:

CALL YOUR MEMBER OF CONGRESS and urge him/her to attend the Congressional Hill Briefing on this question: Is Israel complying with U.S. and International laws?

Friday, August 1st, 2014

2:00 – 3:30 pm ET

2103 Rayburn House Office Building

Panelists will address the question through personal experience and professional expertise.

Tariq Abu Khdeir – Palestinian-American teenager from Tampa, FL who was brutally beaten by Israeli security forces while restrained and unconscious.

Suha Aby Khdeir – Palestinian-American, mother of Tariq.

Hassan Shibly, Esq. – Council of American-Islamic Relations – Florida

Sunjeev Bery – Amnesty International

Brad ParkerDefence for Children International – Palestine

Laila El-Haddad – Author of Gaza Mom and former journalist with Al Jazeera.

Laila El-Haddad

Laila El-Haddad

Moderator: Josh RuebnerUS Campaign to End the Israeli Occupation

There’s even a sample conversation here to help you make the call. PLEASE! It’s important that Congress hear from these voices. If our Representatives and Senators can’t make it, ask their foreign affairs staff to attend.

Briefing sponsors:

American Muslims for Palestine

Council on American-Islamic Relations

Defence for Children International – Palestine

Jewish Voice for Peace

US Campaign to End the Israeli Occupation

P.S.   I’d like to hear what response you receive from your member of Congress.

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Ceasefire conditions

Two friends — one a Hasidic Jew who supports Israel and the other a solidarity activist who supports the Palestinians — asked me for my recommendations to end the bloodshed in Gaza.

Here goes.

#1  Have a clear understanding of the current position of each side. 

Every Palestinian I’ve talked with says the same thing – “We would rather die together with our families than return to the status quo which was a slow death with no dignity. No ceasefire unless Israel lifts the 7-year siege.” Hamas makes the same demands.

Netanyahu can’t give Hamas a “win” by lifting the siege. He wants to eliminate the tunnels between Gaza and Israel and a demilitarized Gaza. He’s also stated he wants to eliminate Hamas altogether because he views Hamas as an existential threat to the State of Israel.

#2  The mediator must be neutral.

OK …. I know that’s an obvious point but apparently it’s beyond the comprehension of President Obama who has sent Secretary of State John Kerry to mediate a ceasefire. Kerry has no street cred with either side. I won’t explain the whole long sorry tale here but suffice it to say, the parties need a neutral mediator to help them hammer out a lasting agreement.

Since most nations of the world have already taken sides in this match, I think the United Nations is the only party capable of serving in that capacity.

#3  Israel and Hamas must talk with each other.

I know, I know, I know. Israel doesn’t recognize Hamas and refuses to endow it with any legitimacy by talking or negotiating with Hamas. The mediator can ferry messages back and forth between the parties if the two can’t sit in the same room, but a viable ceasefire will not come through dictates (as Israel and Egypt attempted a few days ago). There must be honest and transparent negotiations and both sides must be treated as equals.

#4  The Rule of Law must govern.

This should be a no brainer but it’s not acknowledged, and it should be. Both sides must be held to the rule of law. Israel doesn’t want the responsibilities or legal duties that flow from the Law of Occupation. Israel claims the right of self-defense and Hamas claims the right of self-defense but both endanger innocent civilians in contravention of international law and the laws of war. Unless the world is descending into lawless anarchy, the mediator must stipulate the ground rules — and the Law of Occupation, International Humanitarian Law, Refugee Law, etc. must be the basis for any negotiation.

#5  Address the legitimate needs of both sides.

The State of Israel needs security but can’t bomb its way to a sustainable peace with its neighbors. The people in Gaza need the suffocating siege lifted. Each side has more demands that will require more trust before compromises can be made, but to end the bloodshed now, these two issues (Israel’s security and lifting the siege on Gaza) must be addressed immediately.

Since every indication is that Netanyahu is not inclined to lift the siege, he needs outside “help” to make the right decision. It’s time for sticks, not carrots. Ideally, President Obama should signal his intention to withhold $8.5 million per day that the U.S. sends to support Israel’s military. Unfortunately, the U.S. has not proven to be a very effective partner for peace in the Middle East despite Obama’s words to the contrary. So the EU and others who have already taken steps to wield some serious sticks at Israel should be counseled to do so now.

In exchange for lifting the siege, the tunnels between Gaza and Israel should be dismantled under the supervision of an international body. This must be documented to the satisfaction of Israel and the community of nations.

There’s much more that could be said —- should be said —- about the occupation and the long-term prospects of co-existence. For the time being, the bloodshed must end. The rule of law must prevail.

As international correspondent Jon Snow says — “We can each make a difference if we care.”

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A lawyer in Gaza wants to bridge the divide

I wrote the following piece for the American Bar Association in July 2013. It’s about a Palestinian lawyer in Gaza. I haven’t heard from him and don’t know if he or his family are still alive.

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A Palestinian lawyer and long-time ABA member in Gaza, Sharhabeel Y. Al Za’eem, wants to raise the bar on the legal profession in Palestine. He runs his office with the same high expectation.

A lawyer for thirty years with his own successful commercial (intellectual property, banking and business) practice, it seems he could have any job he wants.  Arafat asked him to be the Attorney General, and at different times he was approached to be the Palestinian Minister of Justice, and the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court.  He refused them all. He felt he could make a bigger difference remaining in private practice as a mentor for new attorneys and an advisor to his clients and colleagues.

When he was a boy, Al Za’eem’s grandfather told him that he was a lawyer by nature because he loved to defend others and think of excuses to help absolve his friends in trouble. Graduating from high school in the mid-1970s, he chose a different path and decided to pursue engineering studies in Alexandria, Egypt because there were no universities in Gaza at that time (today there are six.

The Gaza legal aid society works from this office.

The Gaza legal aid society works from this office.

Then, as now, it was not easy to travel out of Gaza. The International Committee of the Red Cross facilitated his travel through Rafah, crossing the Sinai and the Suez Canal in buses with the windows covered, even the front window, leaving only a little peep hole for the driver.

His studies came to an abrupt end when Egypt expelled all of the Palestinian students in the country in response to an assassination of a high-ranking Egyptian official.  Al Za’eem asked an Egyptian friend to intervene on his behalf.  He learned he could remain in Egypt but would not be allowed to study engineering, pharmacy, medicine or science. He selected law.

After he completed his legal studies (he was 2nd in his class out of 400 students), he returned to Gaza and clerked for one year in a law office before receiving his license to practice law in 1983. Today there are 2 law schools in Gaza and graduates are required to clerk for two years before obtaining their license.

The new lawyer traveled abroad for a few years, but when he returned to Gaza in 1987, Israeli security banned him from leaving again unless he would cooperate with them as a spy. He refused and opened up his law firm in Gaza that year.

In the past 25 years, Al Za’eem estimates that he has mentored 120 new lawyers, many of whom are now serving as legal advisers to Ministries and municipalities throughout Palestine. His is the only law firm in Gaza that pays the law clerks because he wants to give them self-confidence so “they will be proud to be part of his team.” He is a hard task master, demands a lot from his clerks and staff, and expects everyone to meet the standards he sets. He expects no less from himself.

My friend Bashir Alghussein, a lawyer in Gaza who introduced me to the Palestinian Bar Association and took me to court to observe a hearing.

My friend Bashir Alghussein, a lawyer in Gaza, who introduced me to the Palestinian Bar Association and took me to court to observe a hearing.

Rule of Law and Access to Justice

A March 2012 survey, under the auspices of the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), found that many people in the Gaza Strip do not trust or understand the role of justice and security institutions. Access to legal assistance was also identified as a big problem. “We need a revolution in the legal system to regain trust,” Al Za’eem says. The UNDP has a rule of law strategy, but Al Za’eem isn’t waiting.

His goal is to bring new skills and tools to the legal community in Gaza from the examples he has observed in the United States and western law practices. That was one of his motivations for joining the ABA.

Al Za’eem traveled to the U.S. for the first time in 1990 and found that the law firms he visited were very different from those back in Gaza. He networked with American lawyers, attended ADR and mediation courses, and then googled “ABA.”  When he learned that an ABA member does not have to be American citizen or licensed to practice in the U.S., he signed up. He quickly learned that ABA membership has tangible benefits.

On one of his trips, Al Za’eem landed at JFK Airport and was taken aside by a security guard for a “random” search. Two hours later, after repetitive questioning, the security guard tore up his Palestinian documents and told him he needed to apply for an Israeli passport. He asked if he was under arrest, and if not, he wanted his cell phone. He called the ABA number on the back of the membership card in his wallet and within thirty minutes, two attorneys arrived to assist him. Needless to say, he was quickly released. He has returned to the U.S. many times since, and remains a life-long ABA member.

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The never-ending peace process

In 1992, Al Za’eem was part of a Palestinian delegation sent to outreach to the Jewish community to tell them “we are not terrorists” and “we want peace.” Those meetings, he said, gave him a different perspective about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

He served as a negotiator in Madrid and Washington in the early 90s and as a legal adviser to the PLO (94-97). Al Za’eem has spent a long time trying to bridge the gap between Fatah and Hamas as part of a group effort called the Palestinian Independent Gathering.  He points to some success.  They convinced the Ministry of Education in Gaza and the West Bank to unify the Palestinian curriculum and testing for all students.

In 2007-2008, no one from Gaza could travel to Mecca for the annual pilgrimage known as the Hajj.  He helped negotiate an agreement with the Ministries in both Gaza and the West Bank — to facilitate their travel.

After a three year hiatus, many Palestinians in Gaza are skeptical that any progress will come from the new round of talks announced recently by Secretary of State John Kerry. Al Za’eem remains hopeful. He met then-Senator Kerry in 2009 and believes “if Kerry invests the time, he has the knowledge, capacity and personality to make it work.” Al Za’eem admits that bringing the Israelis and Palestinians to the negotiating table is challenging, but reconciling the gap between Fatah and Hamas might even be more challenging. “Kerry is smart, well-informed, and has a deep knowledge of the problem.” If anyone can do it, Al Za’eem thinks Kerry can.

Lora with the head of the Palestinian Bar Association

Lora with the head of the Palestinian Bar Association

New Offices

His optimism carries over into his private practice. Al Za’eem has sentimental feelings for the building that housed the Palestinian Bar Association since its start in 1976. When the Association moved into new quarters earlier this year, he leased the building, refurbished it and moved his offices in.

Despite the Israeli blockade, Al Za’eem’s practice is expanding. His international clients, he notes, need someone on the ground to represent them in Gaza. He expects the lawyers in his firm to be specialists – telecommunications, oil & gas, power purchase agreements – and he’s bringing new tools and techniques from the U.S. and Europe to his law practice in Gaza. He hopes his son, in his final year in law school in London, and his daughter, a law student in Gaza, will join the firm.

The family continues to feel the sting of Israel’s travel restrictions. His daughter was going to study law at Birzeit University in the West Bank but Israeli authorities refused her permission to travel. Gisha, an Israeli nonprofit founded in 2005 to advocate for the Palestinians’ freedom of movement, took her case up to Israel’s high court two years ago but lost.

One lawyer in Gaza is trying to bridge many gaps – East-West, Israel-Palestine, Hamas-Fatah, and this generation and the next. If anyone can do it, ABA member Sharhabeel Y. Al Za’eem can.

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A young Zionist’s anger and fear

A friend of a friend posted the following message on Facebook. I skimmed through it quickly at first and shook my head saying “She’s wrong, she’s wrong, she’s wrong!” And then I was going to discard it.

Something took me back for a second look, a slower read.

Instead of trying to “educate” this young Zionist Jew, and respond to her inaccuracies, I wanted to feel her pain and anger. She has a lot of both.

Please read her words, not with judgment or criticism, but with care and concern. She obviously can’t hear the pain or anger of the Palestinians in Gaza today, or the frustration of the activists who are supporting the Palestinians, but perhaps we can hear her.

I am sick and tired of having to defend my right to be alive. The world stood by silently as 1/3 of the Jewish world population was systemically exterminated during the Holocaust. Not because they didn’t know what was happening. It was because they did not care. Israel was created because Jews realized that if ever a people would try and finish the job, the world would again be silent. It’s happening now. Jews worldwide are under attack. Do me a favor friends, IF YOU DO NOT BELIEVE THAT EVERYTHING ISRAEL IS DOING RIGHT NOW TO DEFEND ITSELF AND THE JEWISH (AND ARAB) POPULATION THAT LIVES THERE, PLEASE REMOVE ME FROM YOUR LIST OF FRIENDS BECAUSE I DO NOT WANT TO SEE OR HEAR ANY OF YOUR MISGUIDED, MISINFORMED, ANTISEMITIC BULLSHIT ANYMORE. ANYONE WHO THINKS ISRAEL IS A WAR CRIMINAL IS AN ANTISEMITE AND THERE IS NO REASON FOR US TO BE FRIENDS. BE IT ON FACEBOOK OR REAL LIFE.
There are 15 million Jews in the world. That is 0.2% of the world population. Yes, less than 1 fucking percent of the whole world is Jewish. If you don’t think that such a small number of people need a place to call their own, especially given our history, and especially since there are people everywhere, right now, again calling for our extermination, and that we need to do everything and anything to protect it, then you hate Jews and you hate Israel and by extension, you hate me. Please, let’s not be friends.”

Dear Friend:

Your words very clearly express your pain and anger. I think I hear your fear too.

I’m not going to respond to the facts you shared about the Holocaust, the world’s criticism directed at the State of Israel today or Israel’s right to defend herself. But I hear you!

I’m not going to explain who the Palestinians are, or their history, or their right to resist the occupation. I don’t think you would hear me.

I’m just going to tell you a story about a young man who attended a Passover Seder in my community (Albuquerque, NM) about 10 years ago. As we were reciting the haggadah, someone asked “why are Jews God’s ‘Chosen People’?”

This young man was probably 17 or 18 years old at the time, but very wise for his young age. He immediately chimed in and said “Jews are the ‘Chosen People’ because God chose them to teach the rest of the world how to live with our neighbors.”

That’s a powerful message!

If it’s true, if Jews are the ‘Chosen People’ to teach us how to get along and live as neighbors, then how should the State of Israel (and Jews everywhere) share that lesson with the world?

  • By “unfriending” anyone on Facebook who disagrees with our point of view?
  • By only hanging out with people who think the way we do? Pray the way we pray?
  • By demonizing and killing hundreds of people we have never met (such as the Palestinians in Gaza)?
  • By building a wall between us and our neighbors so we can’t see each other, talk with each other, visit with each other?

You’re still living with the horror of the Holocaust but the Palestinians weren’t responsible for that nightmare.

I suspect you’ve never met a Palestinian or talked with a Palestinian.

If that young man at the Passover Seder was right, and God’s Chosen People are here to teach us all how to live with our neighbors, how can Jews help us live together? That young man at the Passover Seder is a Palestinian from Gaza, but I’m not sure whether he’s still alive.

I’m told that the Golden Rule is in the Torah, just as it’s in the Bible and Quran. Can the Golden Rule help heal your pain and fear?

Once there was a gentile who came before Shammai, and said to him: “Convert me on the condition that you teach me the whole Torah while I stand on one foot. Shammai pushed him aside with the measuring stick he was holding. The same fellow came before Hillel, and Hillel converted him, saying: That which is despicable to you, do not do to your fellow, this is the whole Torah, and the rest is commentary, go and learn it.”  – Babylonian Talmud, Shabbat 31a

Your Facebook message ends with a fear that I hate you.

“If you don’t think that such a small number of people need a place to call their own, especially given our history, and especially since there are people everywhere, right now, again calling for our extermination, and that we need to do everything and anything to protect it, then you hate Jews and you hate Israel and by extension, you hate me. Please, let’s not be friends.”

I don’t hate Jews, I don’t hate Israel, and I don’t hate you.  I want to learn how to live together as neighbors respecting the Golden Rule.

ABC News - Sulome Anderson

ABC News – Sulome Anderson

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Filed under Israel, Spiritual - Religion

Witness a War Crime

20/7/14: International and Palestinian volunteers accompanied Civil Defense and other rescue crews, as well as family members, into Shujaya, in an attempt to locate survivors of overnight and ongoing shelling by the Israeli army. A young Palestinian man, in a green t-shirt, who hoped to reach his family’s home, was shot by an Israeli soldier while crossing an alley between buildings. Two additional rounds struck him as he lay injured on the ground.

This is a war crime. Israel will be held accountable – so help me God!

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Your Diet

If you feed your child a diet of sweets, coca cola, potato chips, and ice cream, he’s going to grow up to be a miserable, overweight, unhealthy adult.

If you feed your child a diet of vegetables, whole grains and milk, she’s going to grow up healthy.

I’ve met some intelligent Americans in the past few days who spew nonsense about the Palestinians — making them out to be monsters, evil doers, hate-mongering subhumans.

My message to those Americans: watch your diet. Garbage in, garbage out.

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We Can Help Gaza!

I’ve had friends in the USA ask me in the past few days about how to help. Please read this message from a friend in Malaysia who I will vouch for …. if she says this is the way to help, then THIS is the way to help. Open your pocketbooks as much as you can. #GazaUnderAttack
“We have sent USD 50 000 to Cairo for medical supplies urgently needed in Gaza. Part of it has arrived in Gaza and was delivered to the Ministry of Health Gaza yesterday alhamdulillah.”
“Viva Palestina Malaysia also sponsored 2 of the 5 WHO Emergency Health Kits ( enough for 50,000 people) airlifted by IMA North America (IMANA) due to arrive Cairo on Sunday,20 July 2014 inshaa Allah.”
Delivering medical supplies to the Ministry of Health in Gaza

Delivering medical supplies to the Ministry of Health in Gaza


21 Ramadhan 1435 / 19 July 2014
FIMA Gaza Relief Updates No 12

Dr. Ayman al-Sahbani, head of emergency in al-Shifa hospital described the gruesome situation at Gaza’s main hospital. “People admitted to the hospital come with shrapnel wounds or injuries resulting from the collapse of walls on people when their houses are bombed. Most of those who arrive dead, come dismembered. Some arrive with missing parts. Others are torn to pieces.”

Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) International, Doctors Without Borders, Nobel Peace Prize Winners in 1999, warned that the response to emergency needs at hospitals in Gaza could worsen quickly “due to already existing chronic shortages of drugs and disposables.”

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The World Health Organization (WHO) warned that medical services in Gaza city are on the brink of collapse as the Israeli military onslaught against the Strip continued.
The ground invasion yesterday has further compounded the frequency and severity of deaths and injuries. 267 Palestinians have died (53 child,32women, 16 old men). And more than 2020 wounded seriously.The Ministry of Health (MOH) Gaza has sent an SOS for 50 essential & 20 disposables drug items.

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Eight anaesthesiology machines, 10 ventilators, five electrosurgical units, 20 vital sign monitors, ECG machines, five defibrillator machines are urgently needed. Specialists in neurosurgery, anaesthesiology, plastic surgery, general trauma surgery, advanced orthopaedics and burns specialists are needed at Gaza hospitals.

The 7 trucks with USD 200K worth of supplies which entered Gaza four days ago, from the joint team of medical organisations from Egypt, USA, South Africa, Malaysia, Turkey, Pakistan coordinated by FIMA has partially met some of these pressing needs. A second consignment of USD500K is being prepared in Cairo for urgent delivery to Gaza. And this convoy will also transport 5 WHO Emergency Health Kits airlifted by IMA North America (IMANA) due to arrive Cairo on Sunday,20 July 2014. The kits are designed for the health needs of 50K people for the ensuing 3 months.
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The FIMA team of doctors who have been stationed at Rafah the past 4 days have only verbal promise of entry within the next 1-2 days. Failing which we are exploring the option of entering Gaza via the Erez terminal (Beit Hanoon Crossing Border). 7 European doctors who were denied entry via Rafah have successfully entered Gaza via Erez. Please make doa that our teams would be allowed access into Gaza to assist the much overworked and fatigued Gazan doctors.

This collaboration of doctors from several countries is important to SYNERGISE our relief efforts and NOT duplicate what is already on the ground. Every team member who goes into Gaza brings added value to the MOH and there is simply no room for “disaster tourism”. We are in Gaza to help provide emergency, basic and essential supplies for health care and help restore basic health services to the hospitals and clinics of the MOH.
Please continue passionately your fund raising efforts to help rehabilitate the struggling medical facilities in Gaza.
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All forms of generous contributions are acceptable including Zakat & Sadaqah. Kindly find both our banking details, for your banking convenience as attached below. Kindly email your IMA or corporate logo to relief@amueg.org for our display banners on the trucks.

May Allah reward you all abundantly for your prayers and contributions during this blessed month of Ramadhan.
Dr Ashraf Jedaar (+27836754103)
Director,FIMA ReliefA/C Name: FIMA
Bank: Standard Bank of South Africa
Constantia branch: 025309
A/C No: 071848770
SWIFT code: SBZAZAJJ

Dato’ Dr Musa Mohd Nordin (+6012-3200564)
Chairman, FIMA Advisory Council / Viva Palestina Malaysia
A/C Name: PERTUBUHAN VIVA PALESTINA MALAYSIA
Bank: Malayan Banking Berhad
Block C, Damansara Offices Complex, Jalan Dungun, 50490 Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia
Account no : 5-64324-601324
Swift Code : MBBEMYKL

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