from the Faith Forum on Middle East Policy
NOTE: Pax Christi USA is a member of the Faith Forum. This is their “Third Thursday for Israel-Palestine” action for June.
Many members of Congress travel during the August recess, and many take trips to Israel. It is important that they get a full picture of the region during these visits, and we can help them do that.
If you’ve ever been to Israel and the occupied Palestinian territories of the West Bank and Gaza, then you have stories to tell that your senators and representative need to hear, and you know sites they can visit to get a comprehensive view of the place, its people, its pain and its promise.
While it is important for members of Congress to meet with political leaders in Israel and in Ramallah, urge them to go beyond the usual destinations to get a real feel for what is happening – the good, the bad and the ugly. Our elected officials need to see the occupation up close and personal. They need to know that there are Israelis and Palestinians who want a better future. They need to hear that you believe the U.S. can play a constructive role in making that happen.
Here are some ideas of what members of Congress could consider adding to an existing trip:
- Augusta Victoria Hospital in East Jerusalem: Augusta Victoria Hospital (AVH), a program of the Lutheran World Federation located on the Mt. of Olives, began caring for Palestinian refugees after the 1948 war. Today AVH provides cancer radiation therapy and pediatric kidney dialysis, along with other specialty services, to Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza.
- Bethlehem: Bethlehem is home to the Church of the Nativity, the site commemorating Jesus’ birth. Manger Square, where the church is located, is ringed with shops, cafes and other businesses, offering a window into Palestinian daily life. An appointment with Bethlehem Mayor Vera Baboun, a Christian and the first female mayor of Bethlehem, will offer an opportunity to hear about the hopes and struggles of a city living in the shadow of the separation barrier.
- Tent of Nations: Tent of Nations, a peace project located on the 100-acre Nassar family farm near Bethlehem, operates by the motto, “We Refuse to Be Enemies.” They offer summer camps for local youth, host international visitors and volunteers, and sponsor educational programs for women in a nearby village. Tent of Nations recently suffered the destruction of trees, grapevines and terraces as the Israeli military bulldozed a portion of their land.
- Mar Elias Educational Institutions, Ibillin, Israel: A visit to the Mar Elias schools, with their more than 3,000 students and teachers of Christian, Jewish, Muslim, and Druze heritage, offers a living demonstration of peaceful co-existence. These schools continue to thrive under the inspiration and guidance of Father Elias Chacour, Archbishop of the Melkite Catholic Church of Akko, Haifa, Nazareth, and all Galilee. For more, see Pilgrims of Ibillin.
- Gaza and southern Israel: In addition to visiting the towns of southern Israel, ask your members of Congress to visit Gaza, an enclave of 1.7 million Palestinians who live under a crippling land and sea blockade.
Contact your members of Congress today: If they are planning a trip to the region, ask them to be sure to visit both Israel and the occupied Palestinian territories and to meet with Israelis and Palestinians to hear their concerns and their hopes for peace.
If you do hear back that your member of Congress is planning a trip to the region, follow up in September to ask him or her how it went!
Sample letter: (If you have suggested places to visit, include those!)
As the August recess approaches, I am aware that many members of Congress use this time for travel, and many travel to Israel. If your office is planning such a trip–during the August recess or anytime– I urge you to get a full picture of the region by visiting the occupied Palestinian territories, in addition to Israel, and by meeting with local Palestinians and Israelis to hear their concerns and their hopes.
In addition to seeing Israel, and meeting with officials in Israel and Ramallah, I would urge you to visit, for example:
- Augusta Victoria Hospital in East Jerusalem which serves patients from the West Bank and Gaza
- Bethlehem, including the Church of the Nativity and Manger Square, and a visit with Mayor Vera Baboun, the first female mayor of Bethlehem
- The Tent of Nations, a peace project operated on the Nassar family farm near Bethlehem. Tent of Nations recently suffered the destruction of trees, grapevines and terraces as the Israeli military bulldozed a portion of their land.
- The Mar Elias Educational Institutions in Ibillin, Israel. The Mar Elias schools, with their more than 3,000 students and teachers of Christian, Jewish, Muslim, and Druze heritage, are a living demonstration of peaceful co-existence.
- Gaza and southern Israel: In addition to visiting the towns of southern Israel, I hope you will visit Gaza, an enclave of 1.7 million Palestinians who live under a crippling land and sea blockade
I look forward to hearing from you about any upcoming trips to the region. I believe that seeing a broad range of places and meeting with people of diverse voices will contribute to better understanding and will help the U.S. to play a constructive role in seeking a just peace for Israelis and Palestinians. Thank you for considering my suggestions.
With appreciate for your service,