Rep. Mark Pocan (D-WI) recently told an audience in his Madison WI district that the Congressional Progressive Caucus (CPC), of which he is co-chair, is planning (depending how Israel’s government-forming works out) to send a delegation to Palestine.
“But,” he noted to applause, “the permission has to include Rashida Tlaib and Ilhan Omar.” The two first-term members are both members of the CPC.
Pocan added, “We’re also saying we have to go into Gaza. And we have some commitments from our leadership, who say they’re going to help us do this– which we never had when Paul Ryan was Speaker.”
Pocan made these comments during the introduction he gave to Gaza-Palestinian Yousef Aljamal, who was the featured speaker at a late-October event “Dreaming of Freedom: Palestinian Youth Under Siege and Occupation.”
The event was held at Christ Presbyterian Church in Madison, WI. The primary organizer was the Madison-Rafah Sister City Project, and it had several other co-sponsors. This event was part of the nationwide speaking tour for Aljamal that Just World Ed organized under the title “Crisis in Palestine.”
Christ Presbyterian kindly made and posted a great video of the afternoon’s proceedings, which can be viewed in full here. (The images in the main part of this blogpost are all stills from the video.)
Rep. Pocan’s introductory remarks take up the first seven minutes of the video. They provide an informative indication of the degree to which support for the rights of all Palestinians is growing within the 98-member-strong CPC.
Pocan prefaced his remarks by noting that, “We get so little information out of Gaza! And under this administration, our government has caused so much damage there.”
He recalled, “Three years ago, I led the first congressional delegation ‘to Palestine’– that’s what we called it! We had five members that went with us and we saw everything we could see. And on the final day, we were set to meet up with UNRWA and go into Gaza for a day. But the night before, we had a phone call, telling us we were not allowed to go in… “
He said that he and some of the other members of the delegation decided to go to the Gaza crossing-point anyway, since their notification had not come in writing… “And while we sat there we saw some of the bulldozers and things going through to take out some of the cropland… Eventually we got our official ‘No’. But to me, an official no just means we want to go even more!”
He recalled that it had been more than a decade since Keith Ellison was the last member of congress allowed by the Israelis to visit Gaza. (Ellison, who had been the first Muslim member of congress, is now the Attorney General of Minnesota.)
Pocan made a point of noting a couple of positive developments. One was the CPC’s plan to organize another– probably bigger?– delegation to Palestine than the one he had led back in 2016. The other was a plan that he said is projected to launch later this month for a series of Skype sessions between members of congress and various groups of citizens inside Gaza.
He recalled the strong impression the 2016 visit had made on him: “It really was alarming to go into downtown Hebron and other areas… But in Gaza, we don’t even have people getting in!”
He stressed that, “Conditions there are so bad. So many of us refer to it as an open-air prison. We can’t let this White House just continue to push things like the defunding of UNRWA.”
He gave full-throated support to the project the Madison-Rafah Sister City Project is pursuing, to win official support from the Madison City Council for their city-twinning program. “I truly believe nothing is more powerful than to have a sister-city relation with [a city in] Gaza,” he said. “I’ve talked to the new mayor about it and she’s open to the conversation.” He referred to the very real contribution he felt that Madison’s twinning programs with cities in Colombia and El Salvador had made to the situation of the people in those cities– also, amidst conditions of intense inter-group conflict.
“I am committed to doing this,” he said, of the Madison-Rafah twinning project.
The congressman sat very attentively as Yousef Aljamal gave a presentation that covered both the acute humanitarian crisis in Gaza and the crisis caused by the Israeli military’s detention of hundreds of Palestinian youths in the West Bank, every year.
Aljamal, who has many close family ties with the West Bank, was the translator of the recently published book Dreaming of Freedom: Palestinian Child Prisoners Speak. Earlier in October, he presented copies of the book to Members and congressional staffers he met with on Capitol Hill.
When meeting Rep. Pocan, Aljamal made a point of thanking him for the early support he gave to H.R. 2407, a still-pending House Bill that seeks to hold Israel (and all other recipients of U.S. military aid) accountable for any violations member of aid-receiving military units commit against the Declaration of the Rights of the Child.
After the events he spoke at in Madison, Aljamal traveled to Portland OR (as reported on here) and then to two islands in Hawai’i, where he spoke to community groups and participated in a panel discussion on Palestine at the annual conference of the American Studies Association. We are still organizing the photos and reports we received from Hawai’i, but here are a few teasers: