Approximately 75 people filled a room in the Longworth House Office Building yesterday for a lunchtime briefing on Israel’s abuse of US citizens.
The briefing, organized by American Muslims for Palestine, featured testimony from US citizens directly impacted by Israel or those who litigated on behalf of US citizens killed by Israel.
Palestinian-American Rep. Rashida Tlaib (D-MI) also spoke at the briefing about her family’s separate-and-unequal treatment by Israel. Tlaib decried how her mother, a US citizen, is not allowed by Israel to visit the West Bank via Ben Gurion Airport near Tel Aviv because she also has Palestinian identification. Instead, her mother must transit to the West Bank via Jordan. Tlaib was blunt in her criticism of this Israeli policy, calling it “segregation”.
Tlaib also recounted her first visit to Palestine at age 12 to attend a family wedding in the West Bank. Growing up in Detroit with primarily Black teachers who instilled in her a knowledge of the “pain of oppression and segregation,” Tlaib was shocked by Israel’s separation of Palestinians at border control. Standing in a slow-moving line of Palestinians while others breezed through security, Tlaib realized that “this is what my teachers taught me about what happened to Blacks in America.”
She urged the Capitol Hill audience to “push back against these kinds of racist policies in Israel.”
Tlaib also addressed the Palestinian-American and Palestine solidarity activists in the audience, urging them to engage their Members of Congress about the issue because many of them have a limited knowledge base. She recommended that activists “pull back a little” from terminology and history, and instead “talk about you first, the personal.” First-term Members of Congress are “waiting for you to teach them.”
American Muslims for Palestine offered a way to do just that by releasing a 31-page policy paper, entitled “Israel’s Treatment of US Citizens: Case Studies and Policy Recommendations”, at the briefing. The policy paper details Israel’s killing and injuring of US citizens along with the discriminatory entry policies Tlaib described.
The paper makes three major policy recommendations for decision-makers. The United States should conduct its own investigations when Israel kills or injures its citizens and stop deferring to Israel to investigate and exonerate itself.
Second, the United States also should hold accountable Israeli military units and individuals who commit human rights abuses against US citizens using existing sanctions mechanisms such as the Arms Export Control Act, the Foreign Assistance Act, the “Leahy Laws”, and the Global Magnitsky Act.
Finally, Israel should continue to be denied entry into the Visa Waiver Program as long as it continues to discriminate in its entry policies toward US citizens due to their national origin, religion, or political viewpoint.
The first featured speaker of the briefing was Maria LaHood, Deputy Legal Director at the Center for Constitutional Rights. LaHood filed a lawsuit against Caterpillar, Inc. on behalf of Rachel Corrie, a US citizen who was crushed to death by a bulldozer as she tried to prevent a Palestinian home from being demolished in the Gaza Strip in 2003. LaHood recounted how the US government failed to investigate her death even after it concluded that Israel’s own investigation was inadequate.
LaHood also filed Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests to gather information about the US government’s response to Israel’s killing of US citizen Furkan Doğan aboard a humanitarian flotilla which attempted to break Israel’s blockade of the Gaza Strip in 2010. Despite a UN finding that Doğan was shot by Israeli naval commandos at point-blank range, the documents she obtained revealed the Obama administration to be in cahoots with Israel to prevent it from facing international accountability.
Another panelist was Brian Avery, a North Carolina-based musician who was shot in the face and seriously wounded by Israeli troops while he was volunteering with the International Solidarity Movement (ISM) in Nablus in 2003. Avery recounted the farcical nature of Israel’s investigation into his injury, describing how Israeli military authorities tried to deny responsibility even after the Israeli doctor who performed his surgery confirmed that the large-caliber bullet which shattered his cheek and jaw could only have come from an Israeli military gun.
Avery’s work with the ISM consisted of accompanying Palestinian children to school during the height of curfews and sieges imposed by Israel during the second intifada, as well as providing first aid to those injured. Despite the life-altering injuries Avery sustained, he expressed having no regrets.
The panel also featured Emily Siegel of Eyewitness Palestine who has helped prepare approximately 1,000 US citizens to visit Israel and Occupied Palestinian Territory on solidarity delegations. Siegel recounted how she was subjected to intrusive questioning by Israel, asked to open her personal email account for inspection, and deported by Israel despite her Jewish-American privilege. Siegel stressed, however, that in her experience, the overwhelming number of US citizens subjected to this treatment are Palestinian-, Arab-, and Muslim-Americans. She emphasized that Israel’s racist denial of entry policies are part of a broader and systematic pattern of racism inflicted upon the Palestinian people.
The panel concluded with testimony from teenage journalist Janna Jihad. Based in the West Bank village of Nabi Saleh, Jihad is a US citizen born in Gainesville, Florida. Jihad spoke passionately about the oppression she has experienced growing up under Israeli military occupation, including seeing relatives killed and dealing with the daily indignities of land theft and checkpoints restricting her movement.
AMP live-streamed the briefing on Facebook, which has been viewed nearly 4,000 times in less than 24 hours.
With Congress about to embark on its summer recess, constituents will be able soon to press their Members of Congress about these policy recommendations at town hall meetings.