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APN Legislative Round-Up - January 25, 2008

I. Bills and Resolutions; II. APN statement on the Gaza crisis; III. Gaza Dear Colleague/Letter to Rice; IV. Members to Participate in Right-Wing Israeli Conference; V. Ackerman on Censorship and Incitement in the Arab World

APN Legislative Round-Up for the week ending January 25, 2008

I.  Bills and Resolutions
II.  APN statement on the Gaza crisis
III. Gaza Dear Colleague/Letter to Rice
IV. Members to Participate in Right-Wing Israeli Conference
V. Ackerman on Censorship and Incitement in the Arab World

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I. BILLS AND RESOLUTIONS
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(UN) H. Res. 939: Introduced 1/23/08 by Rep. Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL) and 15 cosponsors, "Condemning the glorification of terrorism and the continuing anti-Israel and anti-Semitic rhetoric at the United Nations." Referred to the House Committee on Foreign Affairs.

(IRAN) HR 5084: Introduced 1/18/08 by Rep. Shays (R-CT), "To require the Secretary of State to conduct ongoing assessments of the effectiveness of sanctions against Iran, and for other purposes." Referred to the Committees on Foreign Affairs, Financial Services, Oversight and Government Reform, Ways and Means, and Agriculture.

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II. APN STATEMENT ON THE GAZA CRISIS ===================================

On 1/25/08, APN issued the following statement on the Current Crisis in Southern Israel, Gaza, and on the Gaza-Egypt Border

"In recent days, the world has seen images of Gazans struggling to cope with a lack of fuel and electricity and an acute shortage of other supplies. This week, the world media is flooded with images of huge numbers of Gazans crossing the Egyptian border to purchase basic goods and necessities. Clearly, Israeli efforts to pressure Hamas by clamping down on Gaza, efforts condoned by the U.S., have resulted in increased desperation and misery for the people of Gaza. Yesterday's breach of the Egypt-Gaza border is a tangible consequence of this desperation and a disastrous development for Israel in terms of both security and its image in the world.

"The firing of rockets and mortar rounds from Gaza into Israel must end. APN and its Israeli sister organization, Peace Now, have repeatedly expressed solidarity with the residents of Israeli communities near Gaza who are suffering from such attacks. The government of Israel has the right - indeed, the obligation - to take measures to bring these attacks to a halt, as well as to seek to free its captured soldier Gilad Shalit.

"APN has also consistently held that Israel should avoid actions that constitute collective punishment or cause disproportionate suffering or casualties among civilians. Such actions are fundamentally wrong and ultimately counterproductive. It is equally wrong and counterproductive for the U.S. to condone such actions. The dramatic deterioration in the health and welfare of civilians in Gaza over the past year represents an entirely man-made, and entirely avoidable, humanitarian tragedy. This tragedy must be reversed, not as a concession to Hamas, but because it is the right thing to do, both morally and strategically.

"By now it should be clear that the policy of placing Gaza under siege is succeeding neither in stopping Qassam fire, nor in ousting Hamas. Tactics of this nature have been tried and have failed, repeatedly. Rather than continue down this disastrous path, Israel, with the support and urging of the U.S., should forge a more responsible, constructive, and far-sighted way forward in terms of both its tactics and strategy for Gaza.

"This new way forward should include ending the blockade of Gaza. It should also include urgent diplomatic efforts to address the security challenges associated with Gaza. In particular, Israel should explore the possibility of achieving understandings with Hamas to end the violence, including a ceasefire or a "hudna," either through direct contacts or via third parties, including President Abbas. Such an option has been embraced to various degrees by key Israeli military and security figures, including former national security advisor (to Prime Minister Ariel Sharon) Giora Eiland, former Mossad chief Ephraim Halevy, and former defense minister Shaul Mofaz.

"A ceasefire or hudna cannot be an end unto itself. A ceasefire or hudna is desirable as a means to halt violence and chaos in the immediate term, creating the space to facilitate improvements in the humanitarian situation and the establishment of a political process. In this way, it can allow the sides to avoid the re-emergence of violence in the longer term. Such a process could involve, as appropriate, the major relevant players: Israel, the Palestinian Authority, Hamas, and Egypt. Absent improvements in the humanitarian situation in Gaza and the establishment of a political process, any ceasefire or hudna risks becoming merely an intermission to allow those attacking Israel to re-arm, re-trench, and enhance their military capability for future attacks.

"Similarly, it is vital that order and security be restored along the Egypt-Gaza border. This will require cooperation and coordination, including between Egypt and Israel, whose Camp David treaty governs military operations and deployments in the border area. Absent such coordination and cooperation, or absent accompanying improvements in the humanitarian situation inside Gaza, efforts to address the border situation will likely fail, with predictable results."

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III. GAZA DEAR COLLEAGUE/LETTER TO RICE =========================================

On 1/23/08 Rep. Kucinich (D-OH) circulated a Dear Colleague seeking co-signers on a letter to Secretary Rice regarding the crisis in Gaza. The letter (which was open for signers only on 1/23), was signed by Representatives Abercrombie (D-HI), E.B. Johnson (D-TX), Grijalva (D-AZ), Hinchey (D-NY), McCollum (D-MN), Oberstar (D-MN), Davis (D-IL), Norton (D-DC), Conyers (D-MI), and Farr (D-CA). The full text of the letter to Rice is copied below:

Dear Dr. Rice:

I am writing to urge you to exert your influence to urge Israel to end its blockade of Gaza. Since last Thursday, Israel has closed the Gaza Strip border crossings, has cut off fuel supplies and prevented the delivery of food and medical supplies to the Gaza Strip. Gaza, home to 1.5 million Palestinians, is primarily dependent on Israel for its energy supply. Israel supplies 64% of its energy supply, Egypt supplies 9%, and the remaining 27% is produced by Gaza's power station. Gaza receives 100% of its fuel oil for the power station from Israel.

As a result of the blockade, Gaza shut its power plant on Sunday, January 20th. Since electricity is needed to distribute water to residential homes and homes need it to pump water to the roof tanks, the power shortage has created a water shortage as well. Forty percent of Gaza's residents, or 600,000 people had no running water on Monday January 21st. Oxfam International said that in the absence of diesel, the sewage system would collapse all together.

The World Food Programme which provides food for nearly 270,000 Gaza residents said that they would suspend their food distribution on Thursday because they have no fuel for their trucks.

Medical supplies are running out, there is not functioning central heating in hospitals, and health staff are having problems getting to work because transportation has become more difficult.

A letter from Dr. Eyad al Sarraj, a Palestinian psychiatrist, and founder and medical director of the Gaza Community Mental Health Programme, states that, "since Thursday, food and humanitarian aid [have] not [been] allowed in. Very soon life will come to a standstill. Water will not be pumped for a even drink. My step son is on ventilator for asthma every night. What will happen to him when our generator is not running any more? What will happen to hospitals, vaccines and blood banks? What will happen to patients on dialysis machines, and to babies in incubators?"

According to Health Ministry official, Dr. Moiaya Hassanain, Gazans "have the choice to either cut electricity on babies in the maternity ward or heart surgery patients or stop operating rooms."

International human rights organizations including United Nations Relief Works Agency, Oxfam International, Gisha, Adalah, and the International Red Cross have all condemned the blockade as ineffective and unlawful. In light of the blockade, the International Red Cross has asked for regular access into the territory, not to avoid a "humanitarian crisis" but to "prevent a complete collapse of health and sanitary services." The European Union says that the blockade amounts to collective punishment, a violation of Article 33 of the 1949 Geneva Convention.

In a recent statement you said that "ultimately Hamas was to blame for the situation in Gaza" because they have escalated their rocket attacks against southern Israel in the past ten days. As intolerable as the situation may be for Israelis in the south, collective punishment is never a tolerable response from Israel, nor should the United States excuse it.

Moreover, the illegal blockade of Gaza exposes the shortcomings of President Bush's recent tour in the Middle East. Although he went to bolster a peace agreement between Palestinian and Israelis the United States blocked a UN Security Council resolution condemning Israel's closure over the Gaza Strip. This reveals the Administration's inability to act as an honest broker.

The Administration has the responsibility and the authority to ensure that Israel comply with international law and protect the Palestinian civilian population in Gaza. I urge you to exert your influence to lift the Israeli blockade of Gaza, to allow humanitarian aid workers to resume their functions in the territory, and to support a political solution to this conflict because Palestinians in Gaza cannot live on emergency aid forever and Israelis in southern Israel deserve to live without fear.

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IV. MEMBERS TO PARTICIPATE IN RIGHT-WING ISRAELI CONFERENCE
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It was announced this week that the 5th Annual Jerusalem Conference - an event sponsored by Arutz Sheva, the Israeli media outlet associated with Israel's settler movement - will take place Feb. 19-20, 2008, in Jerusalem. For full information about the event, see: http://www.jerusalemconference.com/eng/

The event schedule features a veritable "who's who" of Israeli mainly right-wing figures (as well as a handful mainstream figures). Notably, it also features significant participation from members of Congress, including featuring arguably the two most hard-line right-wing Christian evangelical members of Congress as keynote speakers:

  • Rep. Eliot Engel (D-NY) is scheduled to be part of a panel entitled "Iran, Syria, Lebanon, and Gaza: Regional & Global Strategic Threat - Drawing Red Lines & Required Responses."
  • Senator Sam Brownback (R-KS) is scheduled to give the keynote midday speech on Feb. 19.
  • Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL) is scheduled to chair a panel entitled "The Global War: The West Confronts Radical-Islam." - Rep. Engel is also scheduled to be part of a panel entitled "Palestinian Media, Education & the View from Israel."
  • Senator James Inhofe (R-OK) is scheduled to give the keynote speech on Feb. 19.
  • Rep. Brad Sherman (D-CA) is scheduled to be part of a panel entitled "Defensible Borders in the Age of Missiles"
  • Rep. Sherman is scheduled to chair a panel entitled "Global Economic Stability & Funding Terrorism."
  • Rep. Ros-Lehtinen is scheduled to be part of the "Global Economic Stability & Funding Terrorism" panel.

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IV. ACKERMAN ON CENSORSHIP AND INCITEMENT IN THE ARAB WORLD ==========================================

On 1/22/08 the House Committee on Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on the Middle East and South Asia held a hearing entitled "That which is not obligatory is prohibited: Censorship and Incitement in the Arab World."  The opening statement of Chairman Ackerman (D-NY) is included here, in full:

"Dysfunctional governance is, unfortunately, all too common in the Arab world. One could say that as a general rule-and I underline 'general'-Arab governments are not only un-democratic, but worse for their own people, they are inept. For many Arab citizens, the basic services and conditions that we take for granted in the United States-things like minimal sanitation, modern universal education, civil policing and the rule of law-these are things which often simply exceed the grasp of their governments; not uniformly, and not everywhere, but commonly and endemically.

"But one thing almost all Arab governments do well, the one area where incompetence and failure are apparently unacceptable, is in the field of censorship. Stifling public debate, suppressing political discussion, imposing limits on thought and expression, these are tasks for which most Arab governments appear well-suited, and in some cases, even world-class.

"There is, of course, a range of openness among Arab states. But in 2006, when Freedom House looked at the absence of press freedom in North Africa and the Middle East, not one Arab state could be listed under the category of "free." On a scale of 1 to 100, with a lower score indicating greater freedom, the highest ranked Arab states, Kuwait and Lebanon, rated a 56 and a 60, respectively. By comparison, Israel scored a 28 and the United States a 16. The remaining Arab states rated between 61 and 96.

"Bad governance and its idiot cousin, the government censor, are not phenomenon of any particular race, ethnicity, or religion. While there is nearly infinite variety in the human experience, when it comes to bad government, they all look alike.

"Whether in the Arab world, or here in the United States, when governments cease to be public servants, and instead become devotees of their own interests, censorship, secrecy, and misinformation are sure to follow. Bad government can not tolerate a free press and can not long survive in conditions where there is true freedom of expression.

"It is no accident that the Arab states, which are among the least free are also among the least developed. Whether viewed in overarching terms, such as per capita GDP, life-expectancy, or adult literacy, or in more esoteric ones, such as internet hosts per thousand population, or the number of books translated into Arabic, or the number of copyrights sought by Arab inventors, the picture is of a region vastly underperforming compared to its potential.

"There is simply no way-other than willful ignorance-to disconnect the twin deficits in Arab freedom and Arab development. The UN's Arab Human Development Report in 2004 put the question starkly: 'Of all the impediments to an Arab renaissance, political restrictions on human development are the most stubborn.'

"But the lack of development, and the ugliness of censorship are not our only concerns. We have selfish reasons to be troubled by the lack of freedom in the Arab world. Quite simply, the continuous propagation by some Arab governments of insidious, incendiary and poisonous speech regarding Israel and the Jewish people makes our efforts to resolve the Arab-Israeli conflict all the more difficult.

"There is in the Arab world, an ugly adjunct to censorship and restrictions on free expression: the special space left open for anti-Semitism, for Holocaust denial and for incitement to violence. Not only is space left open, but in some cases, these loopholes in censorship for hate are exploited by government proxies, or even, the Arab governments themselves. And in these cases, American interests are effected, and I would argue, badly harmed.

"It is not anti-Semitism, Holocaust denial or incitement by themselves which do harm. All of these things are protected forms of speech here in the United States, and typically do little more than help us identify idiots, bigots and crackpots in need of medication. The problem is that in the Middle East, where the press is not free, where there are rules for what you can and cannot say, the fact that these forms of hate-speech are not prohibited, while observing out loud or in print about, say, the health of a nation's president, can land one in jail, indicates an obvious and dangerous form of state endorsement.

"The problem is that the governments to which we are turning to help stabilize the region, and in particular, to help resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, are the very same governments that, with a wink and a nod, are helping to stir the pot of bitterness and discontent. For example, the same governments that say they can't take small steps toward normalizing relations with Israel because of the expected public outcry are some of the very same governments using their government-owned, government-sanctioned, or government-controlled press and media to feed their public stories of imaginary Israeli massacres, Jewish blood-libels, alleged Israeli medical experiments on Palestinian children-and for the old-school bigot-cheap copies of the Protocols of the Elders of Zion and Mein Kampf. You can't continuously throw slabs of bloody raw meat at the crowd and then complain that there don't seem to be any vegetarians anywhere.

"Certainly the Israeli-Palestinian conflict has been a violent one, and the news about it inevitably reflects that reality. Likewise, resolving the core-issues of the conflict does not depend on a free and honest press in the Arab world. And no state, and no government is, or should be above correction, criticism and complaint; not the United States, not Israel, not anyone.

"But there is no question that the Arab states have a role to play in seeking peace-an idea the Arabs themselves have endorsed through the Arab League Initiative-and that the positive role they have proposed is made much more difficult and unlikely by virtue of the cumulative weight of unreasoned and incendiary hatred toward Israel and the Jewish people which they have not only allowed, but in some cases, have themselves inserted into their press and media.

"My hope is that today we can take an honest look at freedom of expression in the Arab world, both what can and what can not be said; who decides these questions; and whether there is any way we can both advance our own foreign policy interests, and the scope of human freedom in this vital region."


For more information, contact APN's Director of Policy and Government Relations, Lara Friedman, at 202/728-1893, or at lfriedman@peacenow.org.