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APN Legislative Round-Up - January 16, 2009

1. Bills and Resolutions; 2. House Letter on the Gaza Humanitarian crisis; 3. Senator Coburn (R-OK) on the Gaza/Israel Situation; 4. APN Hill Event: "Where to From Here?"

...for the week ending January 16, 2009

1. Bills and Resolutions
2. House Letter on the Gaza Humanitarian crisis
3. Senator Coburn (R-OK) on the Gaza/Israel Situation
4. APN Hill Event: "Where to From Here?"

1. Bills and Resolutions

(Foreign Aid) H. Con. Res. 22:  Introduced 1/15/09 by Rep. Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL) and two cosponsors, "Establishing the Joint Select Committee on Reorganization and Reform of Foreign Assistance Agencies and Programs." Referred to the House Committee on Rules. The goal of the resolution is to establish a new committee to oversee the wholesale reform of U.S. foreign aid.

(Gaza) H. Res. 66: Introduced 1/15/09 by Rep. Kucinich (D-OH) and 8 cosponsors, "Expressing the sense of the House of Representatives concerning the humanitarian crisis in Gaza." Referred to the House Committee on Foreign Affairs.

(Nuclear Cooperation) HR 547: Introduced 1/15/09 by Rep. Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL) and 6 cosponsors, "To amend the Atomic Energy Act of 1954 to require congressional approval of agreements for peaceful nuclear cooperation with foreign countries, and for other purposes." Referred to the Committee on Foreign Affairs and the Committee on Rules. See HR 364 for an example of congressional concerns related to nuclear cooperation.

(UN Reform) HR 557: Introduced 1/15/09 by Rep. Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL) and 30 cosponsors, "To promote transparency, accountability, and reform within the United Nations system, and for other purposes." Referred to the House Committee on Foreign Affairs.

(Iran, Syria Sanctions) HR 485: Introduced 1/13/09 by Rep. Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL), "To strengthen existing legislation sanctioning persons aiding and facilitating nonproliferation activities by the Governments of Iran, North Korea, and Syria, and for other purposes." Referred to the Committees on Foreign Affairs, Ways and Means, the Judiciary, Oversight and Government Reform, and Financial Services.

(Iraq Refugees) HR 578: Introduced 1/15/09 by Rep. Hastings (D-FL) and 13 cosponsors, "To address the impending humanitarian crisis and potential security breakdown as a result of the mass influx of Iraqi refugees into neighboring countries, and the growing internally displaced population in Iraq, by increasing directed accountable assistance to these populations and their host countries, facilitating the resettlement of Iraqis at risk, and for other purposes." Referred to the Committee on Foreign Affairs and the Committee on the Judiciary. Note: APN's "First 100 Days Blueprint for the Obama Administration in the Middle East," issued 12/12/08, called specifically for the new Administration to "Recognize the challenge Iraq refugees pose to countries in the region, particularly Jordan and Syria, and call for the establishment of an office in the Department of State charged with coordinating U.S. strategy to address the issue and U.S. assistance."

(Iran) H. Con. Res. 16: Introduced 1/9/09 by Rep. Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL) and 5 cosponsors, "Recognizing the threat that the spread of radical Islamist terrorism and Iranian adventurism in Africa poses to the United States, our allies, and interests." Referred to the House Committee on Foreign Affairs. (Israel/Hamas) H. Res. 37: Introduced 1/9/09 by Reps. Rogers (R-AL) and Franks (R-AZ), "Condemning Hamas for the recent attacks against Israel." Referred to the House Committee on Foreign Affairs.  (UN) H. Res. 42: Introduced 1/9/09 by Rep. Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL) and 9 cosponsors, "Calling on the President and the Secretary of State to withhold United States funding for and participation in the Durban Review Conference and its preparatory activities, and for other purposes." Referred to the House Committee on Foreign Affairs. The resolution reflects continued Congressional outrage over what many saw as anti-Semitism and anti-Israel rhetoric at the 2001 Durban Conference.  (Iran/UAE/Nuclear Cooperation) HR 364: Introduced 1/9/09 by Rep. Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL) and 7 cosponsors, "To restrict nuclear cooperation with the United Arab Emirates, and for other purposes." Referred to the House Committee on Foreign Affairs. The bill would make US nuclear cooperation with the UAE conditional on the UAE taking "effective actions to prohibit, terminate, and prevent the transfer of goods, services, or technology to the Government of Iran, including fully implementing United Nations Security Council sanctions against Iran" and on the UAE having taken a far-reaching set of actions related to its dealings and the dealings of any of its nationals with Iran.

2. House Letter on the Gaza Humanitarian crisis

On 1/9/09, 24 House members sent a letter to President Bush expressing concern about the humanitarian crisis in Gaza. The letter followed a visit to Capitol Hill by representatives of two leading Israeli human rights organizations, which included meetings with members and staff and a public event that drew more than 100 people. To read more about that visit, see: http://peacenowconversation.org/?p=139

For text of the letter, see below, or online at: http://www.house.gov/apps/list/speech/ca23_capps/morenews/pr010909_gaza.shtml

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Dear President Bush:

We are writing to express our deep concern for the humanitarian crisis in the Gaza Strip that threatens the lives of countless innocent Palestinians. While we urge your Administration to work to secure a viable ceasefire, it is critical that you also work with Israel to ensure that certain immediate steps are taken to meet humanitarian needs.

Gaza's civilian institutions have been steadily deteriorating during 18 months of closure and are therefore unable to deal with the current situation on the ground. Since the military operations began, limited openings of the crossings have occurred, but have not been sufficient to mitigate serious harm that has been done to Gaza's civilian population and infrastructure.

It was brought to our attention by Gisha - Legal Center for Freedom of Movement, an Israeli human rights organization which monitors the state of Gaza's infrastructure, that at this point one million people in the Gaza Strip are without electricity at any given moment. This is a direct result of restrictions on the entrance of fuel for Gaza's sole power plant and damage caused to electric lines coming directly from Israel and Egypt in the course of the ground operation. In the absence of electricity, infrastructure and daily civilian needs depend on the availability of fuel for generators. This includes Gaza's largest hospital, which for several days in a row has been running completely on generator power. These generators are insufficient to heat wards and operate oxygen machines. 

The water and sewage systems in the Gaza Strip are also fully dependent on electricity and fuel for generators in times of power outages. Two thirds of Gaza's water wells have shut down or are only partially operating, leaving up to 800,000 people without clean water. Because sewage can't be treated and pumped properly, it is flooding into heavily populated areas, farmland and the Mediterranean Sea.

In addition to these infrastructure concerns, we are especially troubled by the healthcare situation in Gaza.  We welcome the humanitarian corridor initiative announced by Israeli officials to allow for the passage of humanitarian supplies into the Gaza Strip, but it is simply not enough. Civilians in the Gaza Strip do not have access to proper medical treatment and, given the constantly rising number of wounded people, we cannot stress the urgency of this situation enough. The International Committee of the Red Cross and Palestinian Red Crescent Society face severe difficulties in evacuating the wounded and bringing other patients to health care facilities. Each and every case must be pre-coordinated between the Israeli Defense Forces and Palestinian coordinators. This coordination can take an average of 2-8 hours, and has sometimes taken days -- far too long for people with severe injuries. And in at least six cases, ambulances were fired on.

Hospitals in Gaza are completely overloaded and are unable to provide adequate care because they lack medicine, supplies, equipment, medical professionals. In addition, hospitals, needing to free up space and resources for the wounded, are forced to send chronically ill patients home where their conditions often worsen.

Before the military operation began, patients in need of medical care that was not available in Gaza were referred to hospitals in Israel, the West Bank, Jordan and Egypt. However, since Israel has almost completely closed the crossings, patients and wounded people can no longer leave Gaza to receive treatment. Without proper care inside the Gaza Strip and no ability to leave, people are simply not able to receive medical attention that they desperately need.

A viable and immediate ceasefire is the only way to ensure the safety and health of the civilian population and we strongly urge your Administration to vigorously pursue that path. However, until a ceasefire is implemented, we would like to recommend a series of immediate steps that should be taken to alleviate this humanitarian crisis:

- The humanitarian corridor initiative should allow for patients to be transported out of the Gaza Strip to hospitals that can better meet their needs. - Medical facilities, including ambulances, must be granted total neutrality and protection in order to evacuate wounded within Gaza. - Coordination mechanisms vis-...-vis the Israeli Defense Forces should be made more efficient in order to provide for the quick and efficient evacuation and exit of patients, including by allowing for applications made directly by Gaza hospitals, Israeli NGOs and patients themselves. - Unimpeded access should be given to foreign doctors prepared to enter Gaza to provide expert care. - Unimpeded entrance should be given for humanitarian goods including fuel, medical supplies and spare parts to fix the electricity grid, water and sewage facilities and other critical infrastructure. - Nahal Oz, the crossing at which fuel is transferred must remain open as it is the only crossing with the capacity to transfer the quantities of fuel needed in the Gaza Strip. - Israel must safeguard the ability of technicians to access damaged water, sewage, and electrical infrastructure. It must also safeguard deliveries of fuel to Gaza's power plant and humanitarian institutions.

In addition to robust diplomatic efforts to resolve the current crisis, we implore you to urge the Government of Israel to take the steps we have outlined in order to address the humanitarian needs of the innocent civilian population in Gaza. The suffering simply must not be allowed to continue.

Signers: Capps (D-CA), Price (D-NC), Olver (D-MA), Ellison (D-MN), McCollum (D-MN), Speier (D-CA), Edwards (D-MD), Filner (D-CA), Blumenauer (D-OR), McDermott (D-WA), McGovern (D-MA), Rahall (D-WV), Yarmouth (D-KY), Dingell (D-MI), Thompson (D-CA), Woolsey (D-CA), Moran (D-VA), Hinchey (D-NY), Kucinich (D-OH), Sestak (D-PA), Lee (D-CA), Stark (D-CA), Capuano (D-MA), Farr (D-CA)

3. Coburn on Gaza/Israel Situation

On 1/15/09 Senator Coburn (R-OK) made the following statement about the situation in Israel and Gaza:

Mr. President, when President Obama is sworn into office next week, he will inherit an extremely complex and challenging crisis in the Middle East. Since Israel commenced military operations in Gaza to defend its citizens against rocket attacks more than 1,000 have died in Gaza, many of them civilians, while 13 Israelis have died. In spite of this carnage, Hamas refuses to surrender and continues to fire rockets into Israel. No clear resolution is in sight.

As a practicing physician, I find this conflict heartbreaking. Israelis live in constant fear that a rocket attack will snuff out an innocent life. Families in Israel go to bed at night wondering if a rocket will slam into their home. At the same time, Palestinians have nowhere to run from a terrorist organization that uses its own civilians as human shields.

While we all mourn the loss of innocent life, the world must recognize that Hamas deliberately created a situation in which Israel was forced to respond as any sovereign nation would while under attack. Israel, and every nation, has the right to self-defense.

What makes Hamas's actions particularly abhorrent and barbaric is the fact that they are making decisions, I believe, based on a perverse political calculation. While publically condemning Israel, Hamas's leaders and sympathizers in Iran and elsewhere privately welcome the suffering of the Palestinian people as a political opportunity. Hamas knows better than anyone that virtually every area of the densely populated Gaza strip is a civilian area. In Gaza, refugees have no place to seek refuge. The terrible unintended consequences and loss of civilian life we've seen in Gaza is part of Hamas's design and goal.

The United States and the next administration can play an important role in preventing Hamas from achieving its goals. What many on both sides long for is not just the cessation of violence but a real, lasting and durable peace. Some believe this is impossible, but it is in the interest of all sides to work toward this goal.

I trust President-elect Obama will avoid the false choice between unapologetically defending Israel's security and creating hope and opportunity for people on both sides of the conflict who want the same degree of freedom, peace and opportunity for themselves and their children. As Israel's most important ally, the United States should never waver in our commitment to Israel's security. The strength of that assurance is itself one of our most important contributions in the region because it creates the security and stability that are a prerequisite for meaningful negotiations.

At the same time, we enhance security in the region by assuring Palestinians in Gaza with our words and actions that they are not forgotten and that we hear their calls for peace and an end to violence. I've delivered 4,000 babies and I grieve with the pregnant women in Gaza who are being turned away at hospitals because their own leaders have held their lives and the lives of their children in contempt. The next administration can legitimize and support those mothers' pleas for peace while condemning and marginalizing Hamas's tactics of terror.

I believe President-elect Obama has the judgment and temperament to not only maintain our vital support of Israel, but to also create hope in the region and help Palestinians embrace alternatives to Hamas's brand of violence and despair. He will have my prayers and support and I hope he can have the prayers and support of the American people as he confronts this difficult challenge.

4. APN Hill Event: "Where to From Here?"

On 1/13/09 APN held an event on Capitol Hill entitled "Where to from Here? Prospects under the Obama Administration and in the wake of the Gaza war." Panelists Yoram Peri, Amjad Atallah, Ghaith al-Omari, and Andrew Whitley; the panel was moderated by APN President and CEO Debra DeLee. The event ran almost two hours and attracted around 80 people, including a large number of congressional staff.

Audio of the event (broken into short segments) is available for listening or download at: Click here


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