Why US lawmakers should witness the Israeli occupation firsthand

A visit by Reps. Jamaal Bowman and Mark Pocan to my Palestinian village affirmed the value of politicians learning about Israel’s policies on the ground.

Palestinians protest the visit of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin to the heritage site of ancient Susya, in Yatta, near the West Bank city of Hebron, March 14, 2021. (Wisam Hashlamoun/Flash90)

Nasser Nawajah, +972 Magazine, December 8, 2021

When U.S. Congressman Andy Levin visited my village of Susiya in 2019, he witnessed a live illustration of the unjust reality that Palestinians in the occupied West Bank experience daily.

As we stood at the entrance of the village, looking toward the illegal Israeli settlement of the same name that has turned Susiya’s ancient ruins into an archeological park, Mekorot, Israel’s water utility company, was busy laying down pipes. The water, of course, would not be accessible to us or the other Palestinian communities in the area; it is meant to serve the outposts and settlements on the hilltops that surround us.

The congressman saw firsthand how water, a basic service which should be guaranteed as a human right, is in fact a precious commodity here in the South Hebron Hills. Do you know how much a cubic meter of water costs in your neighborhood? In Susiya, it costs NIS 35, approximately $11. For Israeli Jews — including those who live just hundreds of meters from us in the Israeli Susiya — the average price is just NIS 7, about $2.

Currently, most of our water cisterns are located in a “security buffer zone” that we cannot access. We are thus forced to buy water at five times the price, while Israelis living in settlements enjoy the same privileges as if they were living in the heart of Tel Aviv.

Last month, U.S. Congressmen Jamaal Bowman and Mark Pocan, together with their colleagues, visited Susiya and witnessed these injustices, too. I stood with them in our playground, which on the previous Shabbat had been invaded by settlers who were escorted and protected by the Israeli army.

For us Palestinians, such settler violence is commonplace. It would be easy to condemn these attacks as the actions of a few radicals on the fringes of Israeli society, but it is clear that the Israeli government benefits from their violence. Why else would it expect soldiers to accompany and protect them while they terrorize our communities on a near-daily basis?

My village is one of close to 30 communities in the South Hebron Hills that are unrecognized by Israeli authorities. The daily hardships and indignities that derive from this condition are part of the Israeli government’s policy of clearing Area C in the West Bank, which is under full Israeli military control, of its Palestinian populations. The government hopes to push us into urban enclaves that are surrounded and fragmented by Israeli settlements. This is the same policy that has led to my community being displaced five times since the occupation began in 1967.

Furthermore, we are subjected to a discriminatory planning system that was designed by Israel to prevent the development of Palestinian presence in Area C. Because of this, every home and structure in my village has a demolition order. The threat of the army arriving early in the morning and razing our entire village is a permanent feature of our lives.

Faced with this reality, it is not the Israeli legal system that we look to for protection. While we have indeed taken our struggle to remain in our village to the courts, we do not expect to find justice there; after all, the judge presiding over our case is a West Bank settler who lives in the Gush Etzion settlement bloc. For Palestinians, this is not a High Court of Justice, but a High Court of Racism.

Solidarity demonstration in the village of Susiya, located in the South Hebron hills , June 22, 2012. (Yotam Ronen/Activestills)

Solidarity demonstration in the village of Susiya, located in the South Hebron hills , June 22, 2012. (Yotam Ronen/Activestills)

At this present moment, the main factor protecting Susiya from erasure is international political pressure. When my grandfather was expelled from our ancestral village of Qaryatayn during the Nakba in 1948, and when my father was expelled from Susiya in 1986, there was no one listening when they told their stories. I, like many other Palestinians today, now have a voice with an audience to hear me. I will not let Israel turn my children into refugees in their own land.

This is why we were so encouraged when Congressmen Bowman and Pocan and their colleagues visited our village. Speaking to them affirmed the value and necessity of international lawmakers and activists to witness the occupation on the ground, and for them to speak out and promote legislation that will hold Israel’s actions accountable. We are grateful for their support in our ongoing struggle to remain on our land.

We hope that other political representatives will follow their lead in the coming months and years, and invite anyone who is able to visit Susiya and witness what is taking place here in the occupied territories.

Israel relies on the silence and ignorance of the international community and the Jewish-Israeli public to enable this injustice. And so, it is vital to ensure that those in power know our story. We need more members of Congress and other politicians visiting Area C and acting to prevent another round of expulsions. They must show Israel that its actions against Palestinians, against villages like mine, have consequences.

Nasser Nawaja is a resident of the Palestinian village Susiya, and a community organizer and field researcher for the Israeli human rights organization B’Tselem.

#StandWithThe6 and Call Out Biden

Register for & share the Wednesday Power Half-Hour #StandWithThe6 Call-In to Call Out Biden

Join us for the Power Half-Hour #StandWithThe6 Call-In to Call Out Biden. Join us for 30 minutes on Wednesday, November 3, 2pm ET / 1pm CT / 12pm MT / 11am PT to be part of a wave of people power flooding the White House’s reactivated comments line (202-456-1111) to #StandWithThe6. We’ll take action together and also hear analysis to shape our grassroots advocacy strategy in this moment, in order to advance an end to U.S. military funding to Israel, uplifting effective human rights advocacy work that Israel is working so hard to silence.

Drive Emails for H.Res. 751 #StandWithThe6 Resolution

Just a reminder that we have an email action tool and accompanying social media toolkit for the letter launch. 300 organizations have signed and individual signers are still welcome!

9 progressives joined as original cosponsors on H.Res.751 – Condemning the repressive designation by the Government of Israel of six prominent Palestinian human rights and civil society groups as terrorist organizations. Rep. Holmes Norton has since joined. We’re disturbed by silence from high profile ‘Progressive Except Palestine’ Representatives who claim to care about human rights.

House overwhelmingly approves Iron Dome funding in 420-9 vote

Mark Pocan (D-WI), Jamaal Bowman (D-NY), Rep. Betty McCollum (D-MN) and Rep. Pramila Jayapal (D-WA), all of whom have been critical of Israel, voted ‘Yes’



This week House progressives were able to temporarily hold up an additional $1 billion to Israel that had been tacked onto the short-term government spending bill to replenish the country’s Iron Dome system.

The victory ended up being short-lived, as Iron Dome spending was split into a separate vote by pro-Israel Dems and passed easily in the House. The final vote was 420-9 with 2 present.

The funding’s removal had sparked widespread congressional backlash on both sides of the aisle. The vote seemed to catch progressive House members in disarray, as some of lawmakers associated with the funding’s initial removal ended up voting for the legislation.

The No votes belonged to Rep. Rashida Tlaib (D-MI), Andre Carson (D-IN), Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-MN) , Rep. Thomas Massie (R-KY), Rep. Marie Newman (D-IL), Rep. Ayanna Pressley (D-MA), Rep. Chuy Garcia (D-IL), Rep. Raul Grijalva (D-AZ), and Rep. Cori Bush (D-MO).

Not among the No votes: NY Congressperson Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez voted present; while Mark Pocan (D-WI), Jamaal Bowman (D-NY), Rep. Betty McCollum (D-MN) and Rep. Pramila Jayapal (D-WA), all of whom have been critical of Israel, voted Yes.

The Israeli Prime Minister thanked the House shortly after the vote:

Prime Minister Naftali Bennett, this evening: “Thank you, members of the US House of Representatives, Democrats and Republicans alike, for the overwhelming support for Israel and for the commitment to its security.

The Biden administration has repeatedly said that they support replenishing Iron Dome. Israel currently receives $3.8 billion in military aid from the U.S. every year.

Senator Kamala Harris visits an Iron Dome missile defense battery in Israel, November 2017. (Photo: Office of Kamala Harris)
Senator Kamala Harris visits an Iron Dome missile defense battery in Israel, November 2017. (Photo: Office of Kamala Harris)

“We cannot only be talking about Israelis’ need for safety at a time when Palestinians are living under a violent apartheid system and our dying from what Human Rights Watch have said are war crimes,” said Rep. Tlaib in a speech on the House floor. “We should also be talking about the Palestinian need for security from Israeli attacks. We must be consistent in our commitment to human life.”

Tlaib also said that Israel precipitated the Gaza conflict of last May when it attacked worshipers at Al Aqsa mosque.

The Israeli government is an apartheid regime. Not my words, the words of Human Rights Watch and Israel’s own human rights watch organization B’Tselem.

Ted Deutch of Florida rose to deny the charge. “I cannot allow a colleague… to label the Jewish Democratic state of Israel an apartheid state. I reject it.” He said such characterizations are “consistent with those who advocate for the dismantling of the one Jewish state in the world.. When there’s no place on the map for one Jewish state, that’s antisemitism.”

Brad Schneider of Illinois signalled the overwhelming support for the measure and promoted Israel:

America’s commitment to Iron Dome is rock solid. Today’s vote will make that clear—in spite of some on both sides of the aisle who seek to make Israel and our unyielding support of the U.S. Israel relationship a wedge issue. There are so many reasons for hope in the region. Israel has a new government with the broadest imaginable governing coalition including Arab parties. Israelis and Palestinians are talking to each other again.

Rep. Hakeem Jeffries voted for the extra $1 billion for Israel and also voted on behalf of Rep. Grace Meng (D-NY) in favor. Screenshot from CSPAN Sept. 23, 2021

The young Jewish group IfNotNow responded angrily to Deutch’s speech:

This is a perfect example of anti-Palestinian racism in American politics. How dare Rep. Deutch tell a Palestinian woman what she is and isn’t allowed to call the oppression and dispossession that Palestinians have endured through Israeli policies. It’s apartheid.

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Rep. Mark Pocan: Iron Dome should avert need for Israeli retaliatory strikes

Pocan, a leading figure among Israel critics in the House, organized a series of floor speeches criticizing Israel

Rep. Mark Pocan (D-WI)

Marc Rod, Jewish Insider, May 20, 2021

Rep. Mark Pocan (D-WI), a left-wing Democrat who has frequently been vocally critical of Israel, argued on Wednesday that Israel’s Iron Dome missile defense system should remove the need for it to launch its own strikes in response to terrorist rocket attacks, as it largely prevents rockets from striking Israel.

“I’ve always supported the Iron Dome. Because the idea is when a missile comes in, if you take it out, no one’s been killed on either side, and there’s de-escalation,” Pocan, who organized an hour of speeches on the House floor criticizing Israel last week, told reporters. “If you use it for that purpose, then you still send 20 times the number of missiles back, that’s not the intention.”

The Israeli Defense Forces have said that more than 4,000 rockets have been fired at Israel since this conflict began, most of which have been intercepted by the Iron Dome. Israel has carried out hundreds of retaliatory strikes on Hamas targets. 

When pressed on the fact that the Iron Dome does not deal with the sources of the rocket attacks, Pocan did not address the issue directly, responding that “they should be de-escalating by doing a cease-fire.”

“You can’t justify taking out media buildings, roads to hospitals, scores of children. This is not what this is about,” Pocan claimed. The Israeli military has accused Hamas of using “human shields” — hiding military equipment, facilities and personnel in civilian locations, including an office building which housed The Associated Press and other international media organizations.

As part of the 2016 memorandum of understanding between the U.S. and Israel regarding military aid, the U.S. provides $500 million per year to support missile defense efforts in Israel, including Iron Dome. Pocan and some fellow House Democrats have pushed to place additional conditions on this aid.

Like Pocan, other proponents in Congress of conditioning aid to Israel have also expressed support for the Iron Dome specifically amid the latest conflict, while criticizing Israel more broadly.

“Israel is an ally of the United States and Congress supports Israel by providing military aid. And I vote for that aid package. The Iron Dome missile defense system that’s stopping Hamas rockets is funded out of the Defense Appropriations Subcommittee which I chair and I support funding for Iron Dome and it will be in the bill that I write this year,” Rep. Betty McCollum (D-MN) said in a speech last Thursday in which she accused Israel of violating Palestinian human rights.

Pocan is supporting a resolution from Rep. Alexandria Ocasio Cortez (D-NY) which seeks to block a $735 million sale of guided bomb equipment to Israel, calling this sale a “pressure point” that the U.S. can use to push Israel toward a cease-fire with Hamas. Some Republicans sought on Wednesday to tie the efforts to block this sale to the Iron Dome, even though the arms sale does not appear to be related to the missile defense system.

“[President] Joe Biden and [Vice President] Kamala Harris out to have the courage to stand up to the crazy left and instead of giving into their demand that we cut off essential weapons needed to defend Israel and protect Israel from terrorism, we ought to be replenishing today the munitions needed for Iron Dome,” said Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX).

How a West Bank Trip Turned This Congressman Into One of Israel’s Strongest Critics

Wisconsin Rep. Mark Pocan tells Haaretz why he welcomes a new Israeli government, even one led by a right-winger like Naftali Bennett who has renounced the two-state solution

Wisconsin Democratic Rep. Mark Pocan. Andy Manis / AP

Ben Samuels, Haaretz, Jun. 7, 2021

WASHINGTON – How does a lawmaker go from surface-level familiarity with the Israeli-Palestinian conflict to being one of the most vocal proponents of Palestinian rights in the history of Congress?

It starts with Humpty Dumpty.

Rep. Mark Pocan had visited Israel on congressional trips since entering office in 2013, where he spent a bit of time in the West Bank. But it was always through an Israeli lens. After learning more about the conflict from the pro-Israel left-wing J Street organization, the progressive Wisconsin Democrat went again in 2016 on the first-ever congressional trip to Palestine organized by the Humpty Dumpty Institute.

Despite being organized by an NGO that Pocan jokingly admits has “one of the worst names in Washington,” it provided him with a first opportunity to see the land from a Palestinian perspective.

“Having a chance to see things from that perspective opened my eyes about what was going on, and the barriers in getting to a two-state solution that I have advocated for,” he tells Haaretz. “Seeing and talking to people in Palestine firsthand and walking through all the different issues really mattered a lot.”

Pocan, 56, and colleagues Reps. Hank Johnson and Dan Kildee were slated to visit Gaza, only to be verbally denied access 24 hours prior to their visit. They attempted to go anyway, demanding the denial in writing.

“In Wisconsin, we’re common-sense people. When someone says ‘No you can’t go in that room,’ I think there’s something going on and I should check out that room,” Pocan explains. “That was a giant red flag for me.”

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