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.”

Possible House Committee Hold on Arms Sale to Israel


Emergency Aid Appeal


First of all, thanks to those who turned out for yesterday’s banner drop and today’s demonstration at the Capitol covered by Channel 27 News. Demonstrations were held all over the world yesterday and today, even in France where they were prohibited by the Macron government at the last minute.

As I write this, live media coverage out of Gaza by Arabic channels is showing the constant bombardment of Gaza that takes place every night. As you may have heard, Israel destroyed yet another high rise building in Gaza, this time the one that also houses many press agencies including AP. Here is a video of the building owner pleading for just 10 extra minutes.

This was preceded by the destruction of 17 media offices and the wounding of 3 journalists in Gaza. Clearly Israel does not want anyone to know what is really going on.

Israel also destroyed a house in Shati (Beach) Camp and killed 10 members of one family.

And there were many injuries as Palestinians protested across the West Bank. Yesterday, 11 were killed by Israel.

The U.S. media is barely reporting and certainly not showing the extent of the damage and casualties. If you want know the reality including pictures please go to Al Jazeera English and Middle East Eye.

Also, the Palestinian Center for Human Rights (PCHR) in Gaza issues daily reports documenting in excruciating detail the damage, deaths and injuries, including what is happening in the West Bank and to Israel’s Palestinian population.

And for direct, personal experiences and perspectives on life in Gaza be sure to regularly check out We Are Not Numbers.

WHAT CAN YOU DO?

Emergency Relief: At this time the Middle East Children’s Alliance recommends donations to the Paliroots Food Project.

Action: Four Things Recommended by MRSCP: (from our Op-Ed of today in The Capital Times)

  1. Demand that the Biden administration denounce Israel’s illegal expulsions of Palestinians and the demolition of their homes & property. Ask Senator Tammy Baldwin to follow the lead of Rep. Mark Pocan and others in Congress and do the same.
  2. Listen to and share the voices of Palestinians. Post those stories and photos on social media; Use #SaveSheikhJarrah and #SaveSilwan in all your social media posts.
  3. Support Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) against Israel until it lives up to its obligations under international law.
  4. Urge your representatives to support HR 2590, the Palestinian Children and Families Act, which is the first legislation of its kind to have the U.S. taxpayer stop paying for Israel’s arrest, torture, and imprisonment of Palestinian children, its demolition and destruction of Palestinian homes and communities, and the further annexation of Palestinian land. (Pocan is a co-sponsor, so thank him.)
  5. Continue reading

Barbara Olson and Tsela Barr: Let’s stop funding Israel’s campaign of oppression


Smoke rises following Israeli airstrikes in Gaza City, Thursday, May 13, 2021. Weary Palestinians are somberly marking the end of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, as Hamas and Israel traded more rockets and airstrikes and Jewish-Arab violence raged across Israel. (AP Photo – Adel Hana)

TSELA BARR AND BARB OLSON, The Cap Times, May 15, 2021

For the past few weeks, Israel has intensified a provocative campaign of oppression and ethnic cleansing against Palestinians, focused largely but not exclusively on occupied East Jerusalem.

You can be forgiven if you are unfamiliar with the details, since most of the mainstream U.S. media has studiously ignored them.

Among the major provocations were: looming theft of more homes in Sheikh Jarrah, a Palestinian neighborhood in East Jerusalem long targeted by Jewish settlers for “demographic change;” bulldozing homes in adjoining Silwan; protecting a mob of far right Jews as they walked through East Jerusalem chanting “Death to Arabs”; and repeatedly, violently and for no good reason driving Palestinians out of public areas surrounding the Al Aqsa mosque during the holy month of Ramadan, several times even invading and damaging the mosque itself while beating and gassing those inside.

Things got so bad that the Palestinian citizens of Israel marched in the thousands past roadblocks into Jerusalem and rallied in their towns and villages, even launching running urban revolts that very much resemble anti-police violence protests here at home.

Eventually, the Israelis got the response that they foresaw and many probably wanted: rockets fired from Gaza. Now they can unleash their vastly superior, U.S. funded and supported military upon the citizens of Gaza, inflicting damage and casualties in the hugely disproportionate ratio that they are accustomed to. This practice of assaulting the Gaza inmates in their open-air, blockaded prison every few years is publicly referred to in Israel as “mowing the grass.”

As soon as the first rocket left Gaza, the mainstream press suddenly discovered that “tensions are increasing” and that the “conflict,” which by the way was just labeled by Human Rights Watch as an apartheid system, calls for “restraint on both sides.”

And then came the predictable pronouncements from the pundits and politicians of all stripes that Israel has “the right to defend itself.”

Do the Palestinians have a right to defend themselves? Do they have the right to declare, like Black Lives Matter protesters and all human beings the world over, that they have a right to freedom and dignity? That with no justice, there is no peace?

Underwriting this injustice is massive U.S. aid to Israel, currently $3.8 billion annually, which doesn’t include, for example, private tax exempt donations to Israeli “charities” that are funding and driving the expropriations from Palestinians like the residents of Sheikh Jarrah.

Every tax-paying citizen in this country is paying for the military equipment that is used to massacre innocent civilians, illegally detain prisoners without charge, including children; destroy homes, seize land and property, and generally make daily life a living hell for Palestinians in Gaza, the West Bank, and East Jerusalem.

In appreciation of this largesse, the Netanyahu government recently told the State Department to butt out of Jerusalem. After the “sugar high” of the Trump years, even the slightest hint of disapproval was too much; Americans are expected to just support Israel no matter what it does.

What can you do?

First, demand that Biden’s State Department immediately denounce Israel’s illegal expulsions of Palestinians and the demolition of their homes and property. And insist that Sen. Tammy Baldwin, largely MIA on Palestine, follow the lead of Wisconsin Rep. Mark Pocan, Minnesota Rep. Betty McCollum and other progressives in Congress and do the same.

Second, listen to and share the voices of Palestinians on the ground and around the world. Post those photos, videos, and articles on social media. Use #SaveSheikhJarrah, #SaveSilwan in all your social media posts.

Third, escalate pressure where we know it counts: support Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) against Israel until it lives up to its obligations under international law in its treatment of Palestinians.

Fourth, urge your representatives to support HR 2590, Betty McCollum’s watershed Palestinian Children and Families Act. HR 2590 is the first legislation of its kind to have the U.S. taxpayer stop paying for Israel’s arrest, torture, and imprisonment of Palestinian children, its demolition and destruction of Palestinian homes and communities, and the further annexation of Palestinian land.

Continue reading

Update: May 10, 2021
Banner Drop for Sheikh Jarrah

Note: The start time has changed to 3:30 pm.

In light of the recent events in Jerusalem and the escalating fight to stop the forced expulsions of Palestinian families from their homes in Sheikh Jarrah, MRSCP will be holding a banner drop tomorrow, Monday May 10, beginning at 3:30 on the Campus Drive pedestrian overpass. We plan to be finished no later than 5:30 pm.

We have a minimum number of volunteers, but could use more so if you would like to join us, we invite you to do so for any amount of that time.

Parking is available in UW Lot 41, north off of old University Avenue, with the entrance near 1800 University Ave. between the Enzyme Institute and the UW Foundation Buildings.

We will have large banners and flags, and will take pictures to be posted and circulated online afterwards. If you come, dress warmly as it is expected to be cool (in the 50s) and probably windy on the overpass.

Tomorrow the UN Security Council is meeting in closed session to discuss Sheikh Jarrah. There have been many demonstrations around the world in the past couple of days, and there have even been a few items in the US mainstream news. The Israeli court decision about the Sheikh Jarrah evictions scheduled for tomorrow has been postponed. Meanwhile, extremist Israelis are planning a provocative anti-Arab march that will bring them into Palestinian areas tomorrow.

If you are looking for good background on Sheikh Jarrah and Jerusalem including periodic live broadcasts, we suggest visiting Middle East Eye.

Finally, you can also take these two actions:

  1. Thank Rep. Mark Pocan for being among those who have spoken out on Sheikh Jarrah.
  2. Sign the Save Sheikh Jarrah Petition.

As always, thanks for your support.

Barb O.
MRSCP

Rep. Mark Pocan’s Recognition of Israeli Violence


Rep. Pocan on Israeli police violence at Sheikh Jarrah


Israeli forces detain a man after storming Palestinian houses whose families face eviction in the Sheikh Jarrah neighbourhood of East Jerusalem, 4 May 2021 (AFP)

Lubna Masarwa, Mustafa Abu Sneineh, Middle East Eye, 5 May 2021

Israeli military police stormed Palestinian houses in the Sheikh Jarrah neighbourhood of occupied East Jerusalem on Tuesday evening, attacking activists taking part in a sit-in solidarity protest with residents facing imminent eviction.

Three Palestinians were arrested and six injured, local sources told Middle East Eye. The Red Crescent reported that two Palestinians had been hospitalised.

Since the beginning of 2020, Israeli courts have ordered the eviction of 13 Palestinian families in Sheikh Jarrah, a residential area less than a kilometre away from the walls of the Old City of Jerusalem.

Muna al-Kurd, who was attacked on Tuesday evening, told MEE that if Israeli police and settlers take over their houses, “then they will take the whole neighbourhood of Sheikh Jarrah”.

‘The police attacked the residents and activists who were there in solidarity with us. They brutally beat everyone with batons, sprayed skunk water and dispersed people with mounted horses’

– Abdel Fattah Iskafi, resident

Kurd, whose brother Mahmoud owns one of the houses and was among those arrested, called for international and Palestinian activists to stop the eviction and stand against the Israeli settlers and police.

On Sunday, Israel’s Supreme Court ordered that the Iskafi, Kurd, Jaanoi and Qassem families – consisting of 30 adults and 10 children – evacuate their homes by 6 May.

The court gave the Hammad, Dagani and Daoudi families living in the same area until 1 August to evacuate.

Sheikh Jarrah

Abdel Fattah Iskafi told MEE that his family had lived in their home for decades.

Continue reading

Progressive U.S. Lawmaker: ‘We Need to Be Able to See What’s Happening in Gaza’

Wisconsin Democrat Rep. Mark Pocan tells Americans for Peace Now that Israeli policies funded by U.S. tax dollars form an obstacle to realizing the two-state solution


Rep. Mark Pocan (D-WI) at a conference in Atlanta, Georgia, in 2017. Credit: CHRISTOPHER ALUKA BERRY/REUTERS

Ben Samuels, Haaretz, Apr. 22, 2021

WASHINGTON – Rep. Mark Pocan, one of the most vocal supporters of Palestinian rights in Congress, called on the Israeli government on Wednesday to immediately allow U.S. lawmakers entry into the Gaza

WASHINGTON – Rep. Mark Pocan, one of the most vocal supporters of Palestinian rights in Congress, called on the Israeli government on Wednesday to immediately allow U.S. lawmakers entry into the Gaza Strip.

The Wisconsin Democrat told a webinar for Americans for Peace Now, a nonprofit whose stated aim is to help find a political solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, that he is particularly concerned about the deteriorating humanitarian situation in the Strip. He described the coastal enclave as an “open-air prison,” and lamented the conditions he says are radicalizing Gazan residents.

Pocan decried both the general ignorance of the humanitarian crisis as well as the Israeli government for preventing U.S. lawmakers from entering Gaza. He said he is “almost obsessed” with the situation; in 2016, he, along with Reps. Hank Johnson and Dan Kildee, attempted to enter the Gaza Strip during a 2016 trip to Israel, but was denied access. The Israeli government did not give him a reason why.

“The last member of Congress to enter Gaza was Keith Ellison more than a decade ago. That is crazy. That is completely unacceptable,” he said. “They can’t block American policymakers, especially with the friendship and assistance we give. We need to be able to see what's happening and we need to be able to share those stories.”