This letter from a group of six East Bay (California) activists arrived in my mailbox just now, describing their meeting with an aide to Senator Diane Feinstein. The activists collectively worked on a letter which twenty-eight people from the East Bay Arab-Jewish peace community signed, and the six met with the aide to present the letter and their own personal statements. The letter below:
On Tuesday, September 13, 2006, six members of the dialogue group (Judith Gussman, Gene Herman, Annette Herskovits, Joy Totah-Hilden, Jonathan Silverman, and Nabil Wahbeh) went to the office of Senator Dianne Feinstein in San Francisco. We met with Feinstein's aide, Michael Walker, for a little over half an hour. We were fortunate that Tzion Hazan and Ibtisam Ammouri, the young Palestinian and Jew from Israel who joined our meeting at the Peace Garden, were able to accompany us, together with Christy Reiners from the American Friends Service Committee, which is responsible for their stay here.
We all felt that the meeting went very well. Michael Walker was poker-faced but friendly. He took notes on what we said, and accepted articles/documents to pass on to the Senator, including our letter. He said he would write a report for her and she will respond in about two weeks.
Each of us spoke for one to four minutes:
Joy: introduced the dialogue group and “us.” She then talked about her background as the daughter of a Palestinian father and an American mother, both Quakers, and her distress at the dispossession and brutalization of Palestinians. She clarified that not everyone in the dialogue group signed the letter.
Gene: thanked Feinstein for introducing the Feinstein-Leahy amendment to protect civilians from cluster bombs (unfortunately rejected by the Senate). After reviewing the petition’s six points and passing copies
of the letter to Michael, Gene asked Michael to relay to the senator that by introducing such a resolution prior to the October recess, with appropriate co-signers, the Democratic Party would, in effect present to the nation this viable peace option; which should garner many undecided votes and the active participation of the peace community in the upcoming election. In addition, the international community, especially the Arab/Moslem world, would recognize that there are (many) Americans who wish for a resolution of this ongoing conflict.
Nabil: spoke of how humiliating it was for him to go back to the West Bank where he had been born. how sad it is that Palestinians are considered terrorists, when th vast majority only want peace and normal lives, and how the U.S. must act as an honest broker if peace it to come..
Judy: read a beautiful letter addressed to Feinstein, calling for an end to the violence and describing her meeting a Jew and a Palestinian from Combatants for Peace at Camp Tawonga.
Tzion and Ibtisam: Tzion explained how the U.S. relationship with Israel, which consists essentially of providing Israel with military aid and weapons, made the work of peace activists in Israel discouraging. Ibtisam talked about the discrimination she encountered as an Arab in Israel.
Annette: said that news from Israel-Palestine were very distressing to her as a holocaust survivor, as Israel commits crimes in the name of Jewish victims of persecution. Then talked about Gaza, subjected to a full siege by the IDF, with catastrophic consequences: entries and exits are closed, aerial bombing and shelling continue, food, water, and medicines are lacking. She asked that Feinstein bring Gaza to the attention of the Senate and call for Israel to end its siege.
Jonathan: said AIPAC did not represent Jewish public opinion. That many Jews, like himself, opposed Israel’s policies towards Palestinians, as shown by the following list of Jewish organizations:
Brit Tzedek VShalom
Jews for Peace in Israel/Palestine
A Jewish Voice for Peace
Jews Against the Occupation
Jews for Justice for Palestinians
Friends of Peace Now
These organizations all demand peace along the lines specified in our plea and their membership is growing fast. They represent an increasing number of Jews who think that the occupation is wrong, that all settlements should be evacuated, and that peace demands justice for Palestinians.
Christy Reiners: asked at the end if Feinstein had visited Palestine/Israel. Walker said no and Christy invited Feinstein to join in a fact-finding mission led by her organization (AFSC?). She added that meeting people on the ground presents a very different reality than that in the U.S. media. She said our group was an example of that difference.
In conclusion: We are ready for similar visits with other politicians. It would be good to have more signatures. We believe there are enough points on which most of us agree so that we could write a version of the proposal for an international conference that many more would sign.