Friday, February 5, 2010

A Plea Grows in Brooklyn:
An Open Letter to District 11

An Open Letter to the Concerned Constituents of New York's 11th Congressional District:

By now, I am sure you are well aware of the appalling and unconscionable retraction of Brooklyn congresswoman Yvette Clarke's signature from two recent Dear Colleague letters to President Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton regarding lifting the illegal siege of Gaza and permitting Palestinians to travel between the Occupied Territories. Whereas I was proud of Ms. Clarke's initial stance and courage to be one of the very few who signed onto the letters, I am absolutely outraged by this sudden reversal.

For the past year or so, Ms. Clarke, Democratic representative of New York's 11th District, has been one of the very few humane politicians on the issue of Palestine. She did not sign onto a bogus, seemingly pro-ethnic cleansing bill (H. Con. Res. 111) entitled, "Recognizing the 61st anniversary of the independence of the State of Israel," and was one of only 36 legislators to cast a "no" vote on the AIPAC-written Congressional call to dismiss and bury the findings of the Goldstone Report. Nevertheless, it appears that a meeting with a group of local ultra-Orthodox Jewish leaders on February 1 has led Ms. Clarke to regret her support for those two letters.

After this meeting, Ms. Clarke released an Open Letter to her constituents, in which she claimed to "understand how important the safety and security of Israel is to my constituents and the close ties that many share with the great Jewish State [sic]" and regretted adding her signature to the two letters, which she now amazingly concludes, "do not reflect my record with regards to Israel." She goes on to write that the letters "have a provocative and reactionary impact, as they do not provide a complete, and therefore accurate, picture of the situation. They also do not offer a constructive and two-sided balanced solution to the issues facing the region."

Within her despicable "apology" are even the repeated lies about the "threat" that Iran, which has no nuclear weapons and has not attacked any country in over two centuries, now poses to the colonial-settler, expansionist, aggressive, and nuclear-armed garrison apartheid state of Israel. "Israel finds itself confronted with a belligerent Iran that is not only rapidly pursuing nuclear weapons, but also rearming Hezbollah and Hamas which sit on Israel’s northern and southern borders respectively," she writes. "Given the multi-faceted security threats that Israel faces, I added my name to a letter to President Obama encouraging him to adhere to the 2007 Memorandum of Understanding signed between then-Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and then-Prime Minister Ehud Olmert pledging $30 billion in security assistance over the next 10 years." How's that for a "balanced" view of Iran's (totally legal) nuclear program (which is constantly subject to intrusive monitoring by the IAEA) and the "constructive" use of American tax dollars at a time of extreme economic hardship here in the United States?

In her sniveling, belly-crawling retraction, Ms. Clarke essentially concludes that the letters she originally signed "are uneven in their application of pressure and do not sufficiently present a balanced approach/path to peace." Her cowardice is revealed in full, as she continues, "Please know that I will continue to be the strong and unwavering supporter of the State of Israel as I have been throughout my entire public life while working with the Administration and my colleagues in Congress to ameliorate human suffering wherever it may exist." Apparently, that suffering is no longer extended to Palestinians when Ms. Clarke is threatened by a gang of Brooklyn Zionists.

This about-face by Ms. Clarke is especially disheartening since, unlike some of her fellow New York representatives like Anthony Weiner, Peter King, Gary Ackerman, and Eliot Engel, she has lately been showing signs that she will not always pledge unquestioned allegiance to anti-Palestinian legislation or bow down to pressure from Zionist interest groups. In September 2009, being one of her constituents, I received a letter from Ms. Clarke that specifically highlighted her growing concern about "the humanitarian situation in the Gaza Strip." In this letter, Ms. Clarke hoped to address the "crisis" and help alleviate "the human suffering" by requesting the US State Department to release emergency funds to both UNRWA and ERMA. She expressed her support for H. Res. 66 (though she had not voted for it in Congress) which mentions the impact of Israel's attacks on Gaza and its Palestinian civilians, notes Israel's bombing of UN facilities, elaborates on the humanitarian crisis caused by Israel's blockade of Gaza, and cites Israel’s responsibility for the welfare of Palestinians in the Gaza Strip under international law and "called on the government of Israel and representatives of Hamas to implement an immediate and unconditional ceasefire, and to allow unrestricted humanitarian access in Gaza."

The McDermott/Ellison Letter, entitled "Support Improvements in Gaza Humanitarian Conditions," sent to Obama, and which Ms. Clarke initially signed onto, clearly condemns Palestinian rocket and mortar attacks but warns against the immorality and illegality of collective punishment in Gaza via the stifling blockade, concluding that "fulfilling the needs of civilians in Israel and Gaza are mutually reinforcing goals." Furthermore, the letter elaborates, "the unabated suffering of Gazan civilians highlights the urgency of reaching a resolution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict" and "the current blockade has severely impeded the ability of aid agencies to do their work to relieve suffering." Citing the lack of free movement in and out of Gaza, lack of potable water and purification facilities, lack of sufficient and diversified food and agricultural materials, lack of medicine and health care products, lack of proper sanitation supplies and infrastructure, lack of construction materials, fuel, and spare parts, and the denial of both imports and exports into and out of Gaza, the letter states that "both the number of trucks entering Gaza per month and the number of days the crossings have been open have declined since March [2009]. This crisis has devastated livelihoods, entrenched a poverty rate of over 70%, increased dependence on erratic international aid, allowed the deterioration of public infrastructure, and led to the marked decline of the accessibility of essential services."

The other letter Ms. Clarke has now disavowed is the Moran/Inglis Letter, entitled "Support Higher Education Opportunities for Gazan Students in the West Bank" and forwarded to Hillary Clinton. It calls for the easing or lifting of "Israel’s near-total ban on travel from Gaza to the West Bank, even for educational purposes," a ban that has been in place for the past decade and has resulted in Palestinian students in Gaza having "no access to the many degree programs that are not available in the Gaza Strip, including in humanitarian fields such as occupational and speech therapy," leaving, as their only remaining option, the "difficult and expensive option of traveling abroad for study – a path available only to a privileged few." The letter cites the "recommendation of the Bertini Report, incorporated into the 'Road Map,' that 'Israel should ensure that all children, students and teachers have full access to schools and universities throughout the West Bank and Gaza,'" continuing that, in 2007, even Israel’s High Court of Justice ruled that students from Gaza should be allowed to study in the West Bank due to the "positive humane implications" that would likely result. Nevertheless, the letter stresses, "since this judgment in 2007, Israel has not issued a single entry permit to a Gazan student for the purpose of traveling to study in the West Bank – despite numerous applications." The letter reasonably concludes that "Ensuring that students from Gaza have access to a higher education in the West Bank promotes U.S. foreign policy interests by investing in the future of the region – those bright, talented young people seeking to better themselves and their society."

It seems that Ms. Clarke has now changed her mind. With her insistence that these facts are not "constructive" nor "balanced," she has apparently forgotten that Palestinians live under a brutal occupation while Israelis do not. She apparently no longer wishes to insist that a besieged and brutalized population of 1.5 million unemployed, starving and homeless Palestinians be allowed access to food, water, shelter, heat, and electricity in a desperate effort to thwart what both Israeli professor Tanya Reinhart and founding member of the Palestinian Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel Omar Barghouti have accurately characterized as Israel's "process of slow and steady genocide" of the Palestinian people. She now has no interest in allowing Palestinians to move freely across illegally walled-up borders or through humiliating and dehumanizing checkpoints, thereby solidifying her support for the devastating blockade of Gaza, the world's largest open-air prison, in spite of a recent call on the Obama administration by seven leading Middle East peace and human rights organizations, including B'Tselem, J Street, and Rabbis for Human Rights, to "use America's unique relationship with Israel to persuade it to lift the closure of its border crossing with Gaza now," given that the US-supported Israeli siege "harms Israel's security," "exacts an unacceptable toll on innocent Palestinians," "offends American humanitarian values, and is collective punishment that violates international law."

It might follow that Ms. Clarke now believes that the Israeli murder of over 1,400 Palestinians in Gaza last year, over 400 of whom were children, and the accompanying and deliberate damage or destruction of over 20,000 homes, not to mention 1,500 factories and workshops, 281 schools and universities, 15 hospitals, 43 medical clinics, 20 mosques, 50 U.N. facilities, 10 water and sewage arteries, 10 electricity-generating stations, 2 bridges, along with cars, boats, ambulances, college dormitories, government and municipal facilities, the Ministries of Justice, Finance, Interior, Education, and Prisoner Affairs, City Council offices, television stations, police stations, courts, marketplaces, greenhouses, dairies, parks, a zoo, charities, cemeteries, and 80% of all agricultural properties, including all farms and crops, are all part of a legitimate Israeli desire for "self-defense." Apparently, the wanton killing of over 35,000 cattle, sheep, and goats, along with over one million chickens was "self-defense," as well.

Obviously, this is the same "self-defense" that fights homemade rockets, some ancient Kalashnikovs, and thrown stones with Boeing-made AH-64 and AH-64D Apache Longbow fighter helicopters, F-16 and F-15 Eagle fighter planes, F-16 Peace Marble II and III Aircraft, Boeing 777s, Arrow missiles, Arrow II interceptors, AGM-114 D Longbow Hellfire missiles, and GBU-9 small diameter bombs. And that's just from Boeing. US arms manufacturer Raytheon has supplied Israel with Bunker Buster bombs, Tomahawk missiles, and a newly upgraded Patriot missile system, while Lockheed Martin gave them F-16s and a Hellfire precision-guided missile system. "Self-defense" is also carried out by Caterpillar Inc.'s D9 military bulldozer, which is specifically designed for Israel's use in invasions of built-up areas. Clearly, Ms. Clarke must be well-aware that the US government purchases these Caterpillar bulldozers itself and sends them to the Israeli army as part of its annual foreign military assistance package, of which she brags about supporting. She must also be keenly aware that such sales are governed by the US Arms Export Control Act, which limits the use of US military aid to "internal security" and "legitimate self defense" and prohibits its use against civilians along with the Foreign Assistance Act which explicitly prohibits US assistance "to the government of any country which engages in a consistent pattern of gross violations of internationally recognized human rights, including torture or cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment, prolonged detention without charges, causing the disappearance of persons by the abduction and clandestine detention of those persons, or other flagrant denial of the right to life, liberty, and the security of person, unless such assistance will directly benefit the needy people in such country." Even without the overwhelming and irrefutable evidence found in the Goldstone Report, it seems like this was written with Israel in mind. Alas...

So, what did those "local ultra-Orthodox Jewish leaders" promise Ms. Clarke (or threaten her with) in order for her to "regret" caring about the unimaginable suffering of Palestinians at the hands of the Israeli government and paid for by Ms. Clarke's Congress and Brooklyn tax dollars? What has caused her to grovel and kowtow to the racist, Zionist elements of her constituency at the expense of US and international law, human rights, social justice, basic human decency, and her own, now non-existent, integrity?

What can we all do to bring to Ms. Clarke's attention the truth of the matter? Should we simply barrage her office with phone calls, leaving messages that voice our disappointment and discouragement, but nothing more? Would it be possible to arrange a meeting with her in order to explain a few things? Remember, she's up for reelection this year, so this is the time for her to listen (but also the reason she's now pandering to the Zionist vote).

Who's in and what's the next step?

Thank you for reading,

Nima Shirazi
Brooklyn, NY

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