Dear Secretary Kerry:
Welcome to the Middle East. I understand you are planning some shuttle diplomacy between the Palestinians and Israelis over the next few days. May Allah, God, Jehovah, HaShem and the Holy Spirit be with you.
I am an American living in Gaza who has witnessed first-hand the pernicious impacts of 65 years of occupation. Israel’s near total blockade of the Gaza Strip over the past 5 years has strangled the economy, directly causing the unemployment to exceed 30% and by some reports, it’s near 60% for youth aged 20-24. There is a humanitarian and environmental crisis in Gaza that likely will make Gaza unlivable by 2020!
Since you are not planning to visit Gaza, I hope your briefing papers are keeping you informed about these facts. There are so many more facts that I could share to explain the dire circumstances here.
I have been working with a group of bright, talented environmental engineers in Gaza who understand the magnitude of the problems and how to solve them. Their biggest challenge is the Israeli occupation, and THAT is what I hope will be on the top of the agenda for your meetings with Netanyahu and Abbas. Security, final borders, settlement expansion, rockets fired from Gaza and all of the other issues must be put in the context of the 65 year occupation, but rarely is “occupation” even mentioned in the news reports about Israel and Palestine.
Please try saying “occupation” out loud slowly 3 or 4 times. Let it sit on your tongue and in your mind. If you practice meditation, please focus on “occupation” during your meditation. Once it seeps into your core, and you have a deep sense of the reality of 65 years of “occupation” — you will be a more credible emissary from the United States.
Honestly, the Palestinians with whom I speak do not trust the United States to be an honest and neutral peace broker, and who can blame them? The U.S. provides Israel, as you know, with over $3 Billion each year, mostly for Israel’s military and weapons which are then used viciously against the Palestinians. I know. I was in Gaza last November. I heard the drones and F-16s and large explosions everywhere. I felt the house shake and the windows shatter. All with the help of American tax dollars. 186 Palestinians were killed in 8 days of Israel’s bombardment, 43 of them children. You can see some of my pictures of the assault’s impact here.
I am also very skeptical of the U.S. involvement in these negotiations. The U.S. foreign policy in the Middle East seems to be largely tilted to Israel’s favor, following Israel’s wishes, courting Israel’s favor, and mostly concerned with Israel’s security but not the security of Palestinians. Being Israel’s sycophant is not in America’s best interests, and it’s ultimately not being a good friend to Israel. I shared some of these concerns with President Obama last month, available here.
I am convinced the status quo will not change until there is some concrete action seen on the ground. President Abbas has taken the first step by suspending his unilateral actions at the United Nations for the time-being, but now Israel must reciprocate clearly by suspending all settlement expansions in the oPt. If Netanyahu doesn’t make this announcement in the next couple of days, the world will know your efforts in the Middle East are doomed to fail.
Use your leverage ($3 billion worth of leverage) and your charm —– whatever it takes —– but please keep repeating “occupation” throughout your negotiations.
Sincerely, Lora Lucero
P.S. And back home, please do NOT approve the Keystone XL Pipeline. I’ll write you another letter about that.