CNI encourages all members to contact their local politicians in support of the refugees in Gaza.
BY, Frederick C. Butler
While waiting on Israel's seemingly inevitable selection of Netanyahu as Prime Minister next Tuesday, last Wednesday CNI Staffers attended a Capitol Hill briefing on the current state of Gaza.
Hours after Hamas police seized goods from an aid station sponsored by the United Nations Relief Works Agency (UNRWA), and the announcement of the February 5th closure of the Rafah crossing; the prospects of peace in the volatile region seemed bleak, but not without hope.
Panel members; U.S. Representative, Dennis Kucinich, UNRWA-NY Representative Director, Andrew Whitley, and the United Palestinian Appeal Director, Samer Badawi, discussed the emergent problems and dire conditions encountering relief operatives in Gaza and Washington.
Organizations like UNRWA and the United Palestinian Appeal (UPA) have been barraged with accusations of supporting terrorism, while attempting to supply aid to over a million starving Gaza refugees.
"I would propose to everyone in this room," said Badawi, "that the first question on our minds when dealing with a humanitarian crisis of this magnitude is not whether or not these people are terrorists, but how we can help them?"
The United Palestinian Appeal has hurdled numerous road blocks while applying for US Grants for aid relief in Gaza. The bureaucracy of the US Treasury office of Foreign Assets Control makes it extremely difficult for anyone to get approval for funds.
"Fundamentally, no matter what I do in Gaza, as the head of an American organization I cannot resolve those core political issues," said Badawi. "But, what I can do is do my best to help the very needy people in Gaza"
The UPA is required to filter through a 300-page list of US-labeled terrorist, and ensure each child requesting aid is in no way affiliated with terrorist organizations.
"We must begin to poke holes in the logic that says that an orphan, even if he is orphaned by acts of terrorism, is an orphan nonetheless, and no less deserving of humanitarian assistance," said Badawi.
In an act of desperation Hamas has recently raided an UNRWA aid facility for food and blankets. Hamas officials claim to have taken the goods after members of the social-welfare program were denied aid.
"We are put in a difficult situation," said Whitley. "We cannot stop our work, but at the same time we cannot let this continue. We can only hope that this is an isolated incident carried out by some overzealous police officers."
CNI President Eugene Bird posed question to Kucinich as to what could be done in congress about the humanitarian crisis in Gaza.
He quoted a high-ranking UN official as saying, "If the people in Gaza were free there would be no need for charity."
"What is being done not only about getting materials into Gaza, but getting people out?"
"The people in Gaza want to be freed."
Kucinich pointed to the numerous letters and resolutions circulating Congress. With a new administration in the US, and elections looming in Israel, the congressman believes there is a small window of opportunity to answer questions that have been unresolved for years.
"I've offered Resolution 66, and Obama has sent his administration's first disbursement of monetary relief," said Kucinich.
"I've had serious discussions with Nancy Pelosi, Stenny Hoyer, and Howard Berman, and many members of Congress who happen to be Jewish."
"There is a great concern about the extent of damage inflicted on the people of Gaza. The disproportional use of force has revealed a fault line that is compelling and devastating at the same time. It requires us to take an approach that is proactive, thoughtful and leads us to the freedom of Palestinians in Gaza."
CNI will continue to monitor the run-up to the Israeli election next Tuesday, February 10th.
Even after the election, the political situation in Israel will remain unclear until a coalition government is formed sometime within the next 90 days.
--Communications Director Frederick Butler can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org