Susan Johnson blogs under the name above. She visited Gaza last May-June and was finally able to get a meeting with her congressman, a PA Democrat who was not present for the recent vote condemning the Goldstone Report. Johnson wishes to keep his name out of her account in the hope that she can continue the dialogue.
On Tuesday I met with my Congressman, just the two of us. It went fairly well; don’t know how it "should have gone." I would like to have been a bit sharper, more focused and savvy. But all you can do at any time is give it your best, which I tried to do.
He’s fairly quiet but intense; maintains great eye contact; listens well….not at all defensive; seemed genuinely interested and responsive to what I said and the things I showed him. His reactions were very personal, which I thought was interesting. He certainly wasn’t the arrogant, wheeling-dealing, BS’ing congressman as many are.
What was I showing him? I took my laptop to show mini slide presentations I’d created; just images, very short…..lasting about a minute..for each area of focus. Initially he seemed skeptical of the process but they worked well; holding his attention; reinforcing what he heard and at times we referred to a particular picture. They supported and at times documented what I was saying.
I gave a quick rundown about myself…how I’d never been an activist….how George Bush had brought out the protester in me…how I’d been thrust into the Palestinian cause in 2004 while protesting the Iraq War, when Gail Miller plucked me off of the street, asking had I ever thought of going to Palestine; my replying "It never entered my head" and 3 months later boarding a plane for Israel and the West Bank with 13 women, "Women of a Certain Age". Told how our ad hoc group was formed and went to Gaza in May, 2009.
Then I started with a "mini" View of Gaza….(beautiful, fun Gaza; then changing abruptly to pictures of destruction) My public presentation begins that way. His reaction was typical; obviously enjoying the sights of beautiful Gaza and visibly taken aback by Gaza’s destruction.
He got the message about the food shortages, it seemed fairly clear he wasn’t aware how bad the situation is. He questioned the remote control gunning towers– asking about where the person who does the shooting is…Israel? Showing pictures of it and explaining I’m certain had a much stronger impact than that just explaining. Same with rubble in the fields, people living in tents next to the remains of their house.
The food shortages relating to imports and Israel’s list of 40 items I’m sure was a surprise and wasn’t met with approval. I remarked about there being more than 40 items on his desk, none of it food but many essential items….then reminded him the list of 40 imports includes everyday items and food. I think he has a better understanding of the food shortage and to a lesser extent the water shortage (didn’t spend enough time on that) and that the shortages have been deliberately created and to a much greater degree than is known.
"The children of Gaza" began with a mini-show of the bombardment/invasion pictures drawn by the children in Qattan’s art therapy class. He just kept shaking his head. He understands; has experienced war; the resulting children’s trauma. When I mentioned the children’s vacant eyes he commented that, yes he knew the look.
I also had a mini about white phosphorous and Farah Abu Halima. I showed the hole in the roof, the interior charred and burned, Farah. He was shaken by what he saw…I mentioned Israel’s claim not to have used it…yes…..it was white phosphorus. Naturally bothered by her burns; but was bordering on anger about the difficulty she and others have trying to receive proper medical treatment and the whole tangled business of medical documentation and exit visas. When I told him that WHO estimates only 15% of those documented are allowed exit visas for care, he softly replied, I didn’t know that.
Restriction of Movement kept coming up as we spoke about other topics. I honestly don’t think he was aware of just how restricted/imprisoned the people in Gaza are; I wasn’t until we went there. You almost have to be there to understand. Talked about students losing scholarships, no availability of graduate studies (only undergraduate in Gaza). How will the professionals be replaced? They won’t be and that’s a deliberate plan of action. The lack of transportation within Gaza because of destruction, damage and no imports to replace or repair cars, farm machinery, etc.
We touched on the tunnels. He didn’t say they were a necessary solution to a big problem…but he didn’t show signs of disagreement when I did. I apologized for not having a mini-show about tunnels and how they are in the open, along tunnel roads…pretty sure he believed me with out seeing proof. I added I think they could be bombed and wiped out in about two days if that was wanted….I said the tunnels and Hamas had been stated as motivation for the bombardment/invasion…..certainly the tunnels weren’t, they are still there and functioning….what’s clear when viewing the destruction is that the infrastructure was targeted, wiped out for the most part and done intentionally.
We wrapped it up on good terms…not great.. I’ll settle for good or OK. When I suggested meeting with a group I was met with discouraging words about scheduling and so many requests..
He suggested I continue my contact with his Outreach Director who keeps him up to date. I liked that! Took it as a positive sign.
I had a print made of one of the children’s drawings of the bombardment and framed it.
I said I wasn’t going to be presumptuous and tell him how to vote. I did however want to give him the picture, a reminder of what we discussed but most importantly as a reminder of the children of Gaza; what they need and deserve, adding "You probably can’t hang this in your office or put it on your desk, I understand that. I do ask that you put in a desk drawer in your Washington Office; when discussions, debates and votes are happening; take it out; look at it; think about Gaza’s children."
So that’s it: minutes of the meeting December 1, 2009.
Am sure the meeting was much more personal that most….I’m personal and don’t do well trying to be someone I’m not. Hopefully, some of the conversation and information will stick with him..I did leave a packet of information….I guess "educate" is the word I want. It’s something we all need. If we’re open to it, we find a whole new and different world. It’s the way to free Gaza.