Washington DC: CPT Delegation Goes to State Department

On Wednesday afternoon, March 20 five members of Christian Peacemaker Teams (CPT) met for an hour with a representative of the State Department in Washington, DC. The five included four CPTers with experience in the West Bank: Art Gish, Ashland (OH), Bob Naiman, Chicago (IL), Wendy Lehman, Kidron (OH), and Jeff Heie Washington (DC). Also in the delegation was Rich Meyer, Millersburg (IN), a CPTer participating in the 700 hour Fast for Rebuilding in front of the White House.

Art Gish brought pieces of rubble from a recently demolished home near Hebron. Holding a piece of floor tile, Art said, "Children played on this floor -- and I heard the children crying and the mother wailing as they waited for the bulldozer to destroy their home. We helped pay for this, and our government is clearly not doing what it could to stop this."

Daryl Byler, Mennonite Central Committee Washington Office, arranged the meeting and accompanied the five to their meeting with Richard Olson, a Political Officer in the Office of Israel and Arab-Israeli Affairs. Olson is an assistant to Senior State Dept. Official, David Satterfield.

The group looked at a map of the West Bank, and discussed the geographic logic of the demolitions. Said Rich Meyer, a veteran of 6 years work in Southern Africa, "The map of 'zones of control' reminds me of the 'homelands' of South Africa -- the demolition of Palestinian homes near Israeli settlements is a plan for apartheid."

Olson pointed out that President Clinton and the State Department have made several strong statements of "disappointment" and "regret" but Israel is proceeding with plans for a large Israeli settlement at Jabal Abu Ghneim (Har Homa). Bob Naiman responded that the message has been unclear: the US cast the lone veto against a resolution in the UN Security Council that would have called on Israel to halt that development. "Because of the US veto, the perception here in the US and in the Middle East is that the US is still supporting Israeli actions," Naiman said. "That includes house demolitions and new Israeli settlements in the West Bank."

Wendy Lehman told Olson. "Over and over again in Hebron people said to us, 'We keep hearing about peace, but we don't feel it, we don't see it. Where is this peace?'"

Olson suggested that delegation members contact U.S. counsular officials in Jerusalem with their concerns. However, CPTers in the West Bank had gone to the U.S. consulate the day before (March 19) and were refused access to consular officials. Two CPTers were carried away and detained for 3 1/2 hours by Israeli police after they attempted to chain themselves to the U.S. Consulate in West Jerusalem. The chains were a symbol of the continuing bondage of the Palestinian people to uncritical financial support by the U.S. of Israel's intent to conquer and settle land outside its own territory.

The call for the 700 hour fast came from the CPT team in Hebron, on behalf of 700 Palestinian families whose homes are threatened with demolition by the Israeli government. The Hebron fasters, now joined by hundreds of persons and congregations across North America are calling for a halt to the demolitions and a rebuilding of homes, of relationships and of the peace process.

After the meeting, Byler said that foreign policy is responsive to congressional pressure. "Government officials have often told me that our people have got to write letters to Congress."

Lehman said that at times in the past, campaigns of faxes and e-mail messages sent directly to Israeli officials have been effective in preventing demolitions. CPTers in Washington and Hebron now call in the strongest terms for churches to inundate legislative and executive branches with communications urging a sharp cut in U.S. Aid to Israel now thought to be $5 billion dollars a year. CPT urges congregations to make this a priority for Holy Week.

Christian Peacemaker Teams is an initiative among Mennonite and Church of the Brethren congregations and Friends Meetings that supports violence reduction efforts around the world. CPT P. O. Box 6508 Chicago, IL 60680 tel 312-455-1199 FAX 312-666-2677 email cpt@igc.org WEB http://www.prairienet.org/cpt/