Open Letter to HIRC Middle East Subcommittee

March 13th, 2006

March 13, 2006

TO: Yleem Poblete, Majority Staff Director, Middle East and Central Asia Sub-Committee, House International Relations Committee

FROM: Josh Ruebner, Grassroots Advocacy Coordinator, US Campaign to End the Israeli Occupation

RE: March 8 Hearing, “Palestinian Authority Elections: Implications for Peace, Regional Security, and U.S. Assistance”

Dear Ms. Poblete,

Thank you for taking the time to speak with me briefly after last week’s Middle East and Central Asia Sub-Committee hearing on the Palestinian Authority legislative election in order to address my concerns about the composition of the witness list for this hearing.

As soon as our organization, the US Campaign to End the Israeli Occupation, saw the witness list for this hearing, we protested to Rep. Ros-Lehtinen about the unbalanced, biased composition of the witness list. As Rep. Ros-Lehtinen’s office can attest, her office received many phone calls from around the country from people who agreed with us.

Contrary to Rep. Ros-Lehtinen’s assertion at the hearing that she includes diverse viewpoints in her selection of witnesses, the testimony at this hearing proves otherwise. When the most responsible of three witnesses at a hearing on Palestinian elections is a former Israeli brigadier general who is a fellow at a pro-Israel think tank, then there is something fundamentally askew with the choice of witnesses.

One witness, Bennett Zimmerman, condescendingly referred to Palestinians as “Arabs living in the West Bank”, suggested that Palestinians in the occupied territories were over-counted by more than one million people, and urged Members of Congress to reject the idea of supporting an independent Palestinian state in favor of the so-called “Jordanian option”—ethnically cleansing the West Bank of Palestinians and exiling them to Jordan. That the sub-committee would see fit to give a platform on Capitol Hill to someone who denies Palestinian identity and supports ethnic cleansing is an abomination.

Another witness at this hearing, Ilka Schroeder, made absurd and unverified claims, such as that the European Union is funding a Palestinian war against Israel and that the vast majority of European parliamentarians justify and sympathize with the terrorist attacks of September 11.

This hearing was not only unbalanced, but inflammatory. Had the sub-committee seen fit to address our concerns before the hearing, we would have been more than happy to provide the sub-committee with the names of reputable professors, analysts, and representatives of organizations who could have spoken to the issue at hand in a professional and objective manner.

It speaks volumes of the sub-committee’s agenda that it did not see fit to include one witness to properly contextualize the Palestinian legislative election. No mention was made of Israel’s illegal 38 year-old military occupation of the West Bank, East Jerusalem, and Gaza Strip. Not one word was uttered about the daily indignities and human rights violations that Palestinians are subjected to by Israel. Not one bit of analysis was offered to suggest that perhaps Hamas won the legislative election because more than one decade of a so-called “peace process” has brought the Palestinians no closer toward statehood, independence, and self-determination.

If this were an isolated incident, then perhaps we could chalk up this biased witness panel to naivety or some other excuse. However, the sub-committee has a history of only calling witnesses who agree with the dominant policy paradigm of supporting Israel’s illegal military occupation and excusing its human rights violations of the Palestinian people. For example, in February 2004, Rep. Ros-Lehtinen called a sub-committee hearing to examine Israel’s West Bank wall, declared illegal by the International Court of Justice later that year. The only two witnesses—both of whom supported Israel’s construction of this illegal wall—were from the same pro-Israel think tank!

At that time, our organization protested this unbalanced witness list as well. We thought that Rep. Ros-Lehtinen was listening to our critique of the witness list when she stated at the hearing:

“When we come back -- next week we have a district work period -- and when we come back, we will have the second part of this -- of this conflict, and we will be hearing from other guests who will -- may have different points of views than ones that are -- (inaudible) -- dissimilar to the ones who are going to be speaking today, we will make sure that we have another set of panelists when we come back.” 

Despite our subsequent efforts to schedule a meeting with Rep. Ros-Lehtinen and our numerous attempts to provide her office with a list of alternative witnesses, Rep. Ros-Lehtinen reneged on her commitment. We are still waiting for her to fulfill her pledge to hold that second panel.

These biased hearings are symptomatic of the sub-committee’s confidence that the people of United States are behind our current policy of supporting Israel’s illegal military occupation of and human rights violations against the Palestinian people. This assumption is misplaced. Within less than a month of Rep. Ros-Lehtinen introducing a resolution that would punish and isolate the Palestinian people for voting by imposing draconian economic and diplomatic measures against them, our organization collected endorsements from more than 250 US-based organizations opposing HR4681, the Palestinian Anti-Terrorism Act of 2006. The list of diverse organizations can be found on our website at: http://www.endtheoccupation.org/article.php?id=1188

I urge you to take a look at this letter and the organizations endorsing it so that you are made aware that a broad cross-section of people in the United States do not support punishing the Palestinian people for exercising their right to vote. I reiterate my offer to the sub-committee to provide names of potential witnesses who can attest to policy options toward Palestinians that are different from the narrow perspectives that are articulated by witnesses time and again in these sub-committee hearings.

Sincerely,

Josh Ruebner

Grassroots Advocacy Coordinator

US Campaign to End the Israeli Occupation