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Take Action: Pres. Obama Calls for Lifting Gaza Siege; Rep. Olver for Gaza Aid

January 26th, 2009

Can you feel the change in the air? We can.

Last Thursday, at the State Department, President Obama introduced former Sen. George Mitchell as his Special Envoy for Middle East Peace, and stated:

“Our hearts go out to Palestinian civilians who are in need of immediate food, clean water, and basic medical care, and who've faced suffocating poverty for far too long. Now we must extend a hand of opportunity to those who seek peace. As part of a lasting cease-fire, Gaza's border crossings should be open to allow the flow of aid and commerce.”

In other words, President Obama agrees with one of our key post-ceasefire demands: Israel must comply with UN Security Council Resolution 1860, which calls for “unimpeded provision and distribution throughout Gaza of humanitarian assistance, including of food, fuel and medical treatment,” and Israel must end its blockade of the Gaza Strip, an illegal form of collective punishment of the 1.5 million Palestinian residents who live there.

To watch the video of President Obama’s remarks (fast-forward to 32:00), click on the video below. To read the transcript, click here.



Also, on Friday, Rep. John Olver and six other Representatives circulated a “Dear Colleague” letter addressed to Secretary of State Clinton expressing their “deep concern for the humanitarian situation in the Gaza Strip and to request immediate action by the United States to address this crisis.  With the ceasefire now in effect, it is critical that the United States play a leading role in alleviating the suffering of civilians in Gaza and we respectfully urge your assistance in this task.” (The full text of the letter is below.)


TAKE ACTION 

1. Contact President Obama at 202-456-1111 or send him an email by clicking here to thank him for his support for unimpeded humanitarian access to the Gaza Strip and for lifting Israel’s siege.

However, all of our demands have not yet been met.

Also, be sure to tell President Obama that Israel must pay reparations for killing more than 1,300 Palestinians and injuring more than 5,000 during its three week war on the occupied Gaza Strip. Israel also must be held accountable for destroying an estimated 4,000 buildings and should pay for the estimated $2 billion in damages.

And tell President Obama that Israel must be held accountable for its misuse of U.S. weapons to kill and injure Palestinian civilians and to target Palestinian civilian infrastructure. Rep. Dennis Kucinich already has requested the State Department to investigate Israel’s violations of the Arms Export Control Act. Ask President Obama to make sure this investigation is complete and accurate and that Israel is sanctioned by ending U.S. military aid as a consequence of its violations of this law.

2. Contact your Representative before noon on Tuesday at 202-224-3121 and ask her/him to “sign on” to Rep. Olver’s “Dear Colleague” letter on U.S. humanitarian aid to the Gaza Strip.

It’s important that you contact your Representative as soon as possible because the letter is closing for signatures by the deadline mentioned above. Call your Representative, identify yourself as a concerned constituent, ask her/him to “sign on” to the letter, and state why you feel it is the responsibility of the United States to provide humanitarian relief to Palestinians in the occupied Gaza Strip.

And for more take action ideas:

3. Sign our open letter to President Obama, “We Need a Change in Israel/Palestine Policy.”

4. Organize in your community to tell President Obama, “Yes We Can…End Military Aid to Israel.” Israel’s war and siege on the occupied Gaza Strip would not have been possible without the military and diplomatic support of the United States. We need to have sustained, long-term organizing to end military aid to Israel to prevent future massacres from taking place. Sign up today as a volunteer organizer and we’ll send you an organizing packet with postcards, petitions, and fact sheets. To receive your organizing packet, click here.

5. Register for our Feb. 1-2 Grassroots Advocacy Training/Lobby Day in Washington, DC before noon Eastern on Tuesday.

Rep. Olver “Dear Colleague” Letter

Support Humanitarian Assistance for Gaza

Urge Secretary of State Clinton to support immediate humanitarian assistance for Gaza

Dear Colleague,

With the rest of the world, we gladly welcomed the news of a ceasefire in Gaza on January 18.  However, there remains a dire humanitarian situation that must be immediately addressed.  We believe that it is in the United States’ interest to play a leading role in alleviating the human suffering in Gaza.  

The armed conflict in Gaza resulted in widespread destruction to homes and to public and commercial infrastructure across Gaza.  Fuel shortages have cut electricity, limiting the ability of Gaza’s hospitals to operate.  Medical supplies are in short supply and hospitals are understaffed.  The humanitarian supplies and food that do reach civilians only meet a small percentage of the real need.  The United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) estimates financial needs of nearly $350 million just to rebuild their own infrastructure and continue providing essential public services to Palestinian refugees in Gaza

Please join us in writing to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to request that the United States lead the international effort to provide humanitarian assistance to Gaza.  The United States has long been a leader on humanitarian issues and we should seize this opportunity to alleviate the suffering of civilians and restore our historic moral standing among the community of nations.

Sincerely,

LOIS CAPPS                                       DAVID PRICE
Member of Congress                            Member of Congress

JOHN W. OLVER                                  KEITH ELLISON
Member of Congress                            Member of Congress

SAM FARR                                         MAURICE HINCHEY
Member of Congress                            Member of Congress

BARBARA LEE
Member of Congress

**********

Dear Secretary Clinton:

First, we would like to congratulate you on being sworn in as our nation’s 67th Secretary of State.  We are very hopeful that this new era in American foreign policy upon which we embark can advance the cause of peace in the Middle East and beyond.

As strong supporters of both the Israeli and Palestinian peoples, we are writing to express our deep concern for the humanitarian situation in the Gaza Strip and to request immediate action by the United States to address this crisis.  With the ceasefire now in effect, it is critical that the United States play a leading role in alleviating the suffering of civilians in Gaza and we respectfully urge your assistance in this task.

As you know, the situation on the ground is dire.  The flow of humanitarian goods into the Gaza Strip is limited to food and medicine.  Yet there exists a real need to allow for the importation of construction materials and fuel, which require the opening of crossings into Gaza.  For example, only the Karni Crossing has the capacity for transporting large cargo, such as cement, but it remains closed.  

In addition, in order to rebuild civilian infrastructure in Gaza the international community is going to have to make significant monetary contributions.  The United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) estimates financial needs of nearly $350 million just to rebuild their own infrastructure and continue providing essential services to the Palestinians in Gaza

We also remain especially concerned about the desperate condition of medical services in Gaza.  Although Israel has begun to allow limited medical supplies into Gaza, the need far outweighs the availability while hospitals remain understaffed and ill-supplied.  One of the most crucial steps that needs to be taken is for Israel to allow critically ill patients to be transported out of Gaza and into Israel, the West Bank and Jordan, where they may receive necessary medical care.  We therefore urge you to express this concern directly to Israeli government officials.

In addition to the several thousand individuals who were physically injured during the recent military operations, we can expect to see a dramatic increase in the number of individuals suffering from psychological trauma.  In order to help the population to begin rebuilding, we will need to further ensure that funds are used to provide adequate mental health services in Gaza.

Failure to address this humanitarian emergency has the potential to produce a crisis of even more unspeakable proportions.  We therefore respectfully request that the State Department release emergency funds to UNRWA for reconstruction and humanitarian assistance.  We believe the State Department can make funds available through accounts such as Emergency Refugee and Migration Assistance (ERMA) and urge you to facilitate the transfer of funds as soon as possible.

We look forward to maintaining a productive and ongoing dialogue with the State Department and the Obama Administration regarding the United States response to the humanitarian crisis in Gaza.  Toward that end we respectfully request that you or your staff share with us the actions taken to date and the strategy you will pursue to address the humanitarian crisis within14 days.

Finally, we know that addressing the Israeli-Palestinian conflict as a whole is a top priority of the Obama Administration and we applaud President Obama and you for your early and public commitment to meet this challenge.  We also believe that the naming of former Senator George Mitchell as special envoy to the Middle East is commendable.

We believe the security interests of both Israel and the United States will be greatly enhanced by the establishment of a lasting peace between Israelis and Palestinians, and that United States involvement is indispensable in achieving that goal.   We stand ready to work with you as the Administration furthers these efforts.


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