The Madison-Rafah Sister City Project

Mike Murray: Baldwin displays compassion for Gaza

Mike Murray, Capital Times, Jan 8, 2010

Dec. 27 marked the one-year anniversary of Israel’s brutal invasion of the occupied Gaza Strip, which was commonly referred to as “Operation Cast Lead.”

During this three-week act of aggression, Israel killed more than 1,400 Palestinians, injured thousands more, and destroyed billions of dollars of Palestinian civilian infrastructure. Today, Israel continues to subject the 1.5 million Palestinian inhabitants of the Gaza Strip to a dehumanizing blockade — an illegal act of collective punishment — that denies Palestinians adequate access to food, clean water, sanitation, electricity, and even school books and construction materials for rebuilding.

While most governments around the world have maintained an official silence about the siege of Gaza, activists worldwide are beginning to speak out against Israel’s illegal actions. Recently, a worldwide coalition of activists organized solidarity marches around the world — including Egypt and Gaza — to protest the siege.

Back in the United States, Congresswoman Tammy Baldwin, D-Madison, has begun to demonstrate an admirable proclivity for compassion, courage and rationality in regard to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in an institution where all three of these characteristics are sorely lacking on this issue: Congress. Many progressive and independent-minded members of Congress are beginning to tire of their colleagues’ unthinking support of Israel and are showing a willingness to challenge both Israel’s actions toward the Palestinians and our government’s unconditional support for Israel.

Recent events in Congress have revealed that many members — including Baldwin — are no longer willing to march in lockstep behind Israel. The most striking example was the House’s reaction to the United Nations Fact Finding Mission on the Gaza Conflict, known as the Goldstone Report. The Goldstone Report was issued by the U.N. and was written by a group headed by imminent international human rights jurist Richard Goldstone. The report detailed human rights violations that were committed both by Israeli invasion forces against Palestinian civilians and by Hamas fighters during the Gaza conflict.

Not surprisingly, the House overwhelmingly passed House Resolution 867, which condemned the report as “biased” against Israel. Most members of Congress voted for H.R. 867 without ever reading the Goldstone Report.

However, an intriguing subplot to the resolution’s passage developed that generally went unreported. The resolution was opposed by 36 members (including Baldwin) and 22 more abstained from voting. In addition, the opposition to the resolution coordinated strong floor speeches criticizing the hastily drafted resolution for undermining human rights and accountability for all international actors. Such vocal and well organized opposition to “pro-Israel” resolutions on the floor of Congress would have been unimaginable even five years ago.

In addition to opposing H.R. 867, Baldwin added her name to those in Congress who are advocating for the rights of Palestinian students who wish to travel from Gaza to the occupied West Bank in order to receive an education. She joined 33 other members of Congress in a letter addressed to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton urging her to “press the Israeli government to end the ban on student travel from Gaza to the West Bank.”

A small but important shift in momentum is beginning to surface in Congress for a change in U.S. policy toward Israel and Palestine. Those members of Congress who exhibit the courage and compassion to stand up for the rights of all of those affected by this long-standing and tragic conflict deserve our gratitude and respect — for such a position is not likely to garner any favors inside the Washington Beltway. Baldwin’s constituents should be proud that she is among this small, but growing, movement in Congress.

Mike Murray is a member of the Madison-Rafah Sister City Project.