Donna Baranski-Walker, Executive Director, Rebuilding Alliance, writes from the USA on September 28, 2016:
Senator Diane Feinstein met with villagers from Palestinian Susiya and Umm al Kheir on Monday, just before they caught their plane for the long flight home.
I’m happy to say that our Palestinian guest speakers crossed the many borders and checkpoints without incident and returned safely home on Wednesday afternoon — but they were greeted with heartbreaking news. Wednesday morning, the Government of Israel demolished a water well on the edge of Susiya Village, and in the north, in the West Bank’s Jordan Valley, demolitions today included “tents, animal barns, and living rooms”, along with demolitions in East Jerusalem and near Nablus.
We began our Monday meeting with Senator Feinstein with a round of introductions. In addition to Fatma Nawaja and Aysar from Susiya, and Eid Hthaleen and Sadin from Umm Al Kheir, I invited Kate Gould from the Friends Committee on National Legislation and her assistant, Leah Muskin-Pierret, and Rabbi Joseph Berman of Jewish Voice for Peace.
Senator Feinstein, Senior Senator from California, described her important intervention to keep the Palestinian village of Susiya standing. We face the heartbreaking reality that efforts to save Susiya do not safeguard all the homes in Susiya, nor halt demolitions of the homes in the Palestinian countryside or in other Palestinian villages. Because more Palestinian homes, schools, barns and water systems were destroyed by the Israeli government this year than in any year in the past decade, Congressional and U.S. State Department intervention is deeply needed on behalf of other Palestinian villages too.
Eid Suleiman Hthaleen explained that the legal petition filed by his village of Umm Al Kheir to freeze demolition orders never even reached the Israeli court. They did everything right but new rules and red-tape blocked their way, leading to the grueling demolition of five homes and a community center, in three early morning demolitions in April and August of this year. This new barrier to even the semblance of due process made the demolitions all the more painful.
Fatma Nawaja spoke next, comparing the lifestyle of Israeli women who live in the settlements to that of the Palestinian women who live in and near the village of Susiya. One has running water and electricity, and can pursue her education, exercise, and spend time with her children — the other is struggling to prepare meals without running water, cook and wash clothing by hand without electricity, and bear the brunt of keeping her family safe when Israeli soldiers invade in early morning to demolish their home or homes nearby.
When Aysar stood up to speak, he gracefully received the good advice of Senator Feinstein who coached, “Your eyes are both beautiful and compelling. When you speak, stand straight, without leaning on the table — and always look into the eyes of the person you are addressing.”
“This is what Peace means to me,” said Aysar. “Peace is one of the names of God. Peace, Salaam, Shalom is the word we use to say hello. Peace means safety, freedom, liberty and justice. But the people of Susiya, my people, face real problems in this Occupation. People attack us and want to expel us from our land. When children go to school it is dangerous. We ask you to continue to help us.”
In response, Senator Feinstein gave both Aysar and Sadin a book called, “My Grandmother is a Senator” about her own granddaughter, and she invited them to sit in her chair, Sadin first.
I was especially proud of the time my Senator spent with the children, listening to them and explaining the painting of Sherpa villages that hangs behind her desk.
Senator Feinstein’s interventions make all the difference in keeping the Palestinian Village of Susiya standing. She has our thanks, and we are honored to have her encouragement and her action to press the Government of Israel to halt demolition of Palestinian homes and give these villages, and the people of Palestine and Israel, a real and lasting peace.
P.S. Staff from 25 Senate and House offices attended our briefing last week — Click here for the list of offices who sent staff or interns. Please take a moment to thank those who attended or express concern to those who did not.
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