An unprecedented letter signed by dozens of representatives signals a major step forward in the movement to end the blockade on Gaza.
I have a particular memory of a 2015 visit I made to Congress. I had just returned from a trip to Gaza, where I talked to Palestinian partners about their efforts to rebuild after the 2014 Israeli attacks that killed thousands of people and wounded many more.
Back in D.C., I met with a staff member who worked for a congressperson who we considered “sympathetic” on these issues. I shared what I had observed in Gaza and the challenges that Palestinians in Gaza were facing as a result of the brutal military blockade imposed by Israel. When the staffer asked me what could be done to improve humanitarian responses, I told him that what was most needed was an end to the blockade. His response was to laugh and say, “That’s not going to happen as long as Hamas remains in Gaza.”
That memory is a stark contrast to where we are today in building support to end the blockade. On Feb. 19 this year, U.S. Reps. Mark Pocan (D-WI) and Debbie Dingell (D-Mich.) sent a “Dear Colleague” letter to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo—signed by an additional 31 members of Congress—that called for the U.S. to fully resume funding to Palestine and an end to the blockade. The letter was unprecedented in that it moved beyond simply calling for more U.S. aid to respond to the growing humanitarian crisis—and recognized the blockade as the root of the crisis in Gaza and called for its end.
The Pocan/Dingell letter represents a major step forward in the movement to end the blockade of Gaza and to secure protection and accountability for Palestinians in Gaza, changes that AFSC and our partners have advocated for years to achieve. In just the past three years, we have held hundreds of meetings with congressional offices, organized briefings for Congress, worked with activists to send tens of thousands of messages to lawmakers, and supported Palestinians from Gaza in making their voices heard in Washington. And we’re seeing the impact, with more members of Congress now willing to stand with us to push for change.
The position articulated by the Pocan/Dingell letter makes clear just how big a shift has taken place in Congress—and how much of an impact our collective efforts have made in recent years. The letter states:
“We urge you to support an end to the blockade of Gaza. While Hamas bears some measure of responsibility for the deteriorating situation, Israel’s continuing control of Gaza’s air, sea and borders, and its restrictions on the freedom of movement of people, legitimate goods and equipment in and out of Gaza, make the humanitarian situation worse and contribute to instability…
We recognize the serious security and political challenges in Gaza. However, U.S. support for the basic human rights of Palestinians living in Gaza must not be conditioned on process on those fronts.”
When I met with that congressional staffer five years ago, it was unthinkable that 33 congressional offices would sign on to call for an end to the blockade and for respecting the human rights of Palestinians in Gaza. The leadership of Rep. Pocan, in particular, in spurring this change must be recognized.
At the same time that I look back at how far we have come in recent years, I recognize that so much more needs to be done. Most members of Congress still support the blockade and Israeli attacks on Gaza, and this Dear Colleague letter—while significant–will not likely lead to the U.S. policy change that we need today. And meanwhile, the situation on the ground in Gaza gets worse.
That’s why we need your continued support in our ongoing efforts to end the blockade. Please continue to push alongside us for an end to the Gaza blockade (learn more at gazaunlocked.org).
And please join us sending a thank-you on Twitter to elected officials who stepped up to support the rights of Palestinians in Gaza by signing this letter.
Here’s a sample thank-you tweet:
Thank you Rep. [Twitter handle] for taking action to address the ongoing humanitarian crisis in #Gaza! Two million Palestinians in Gaza cannot continue living under this brutal blockade. We hope many more follow your lead.