a yearly Congressional briefing held on International Peace day, at which Palestinian villages ask Congress to advocate for their right to live and build on the land they own.
Again, this year on International Peace Day, Rebuilding Alliance brought children from Palestinian villages at risk of demolition to speak to congress, share their visions of peace, and ask for intervention.
Here's what our speakers said:
With threats to both villages just a day before our briefing, Fatma Nawaja, spoke on behalf of the Palestinian Village of Susiya specifically focusing on the challenges faced by women. Fatma compared daily life for Palestinian women without running water and often without electricity to the daily life of women living in the Israeli settlements nearby.
Eid Suleiman Hthaleen presented on behalf of the Village of Umm al Kheir, describing the grueling challenges faced by everyone in their village because with three demolitions happened this year — all because their Umm al Kheir's petition was blocked from reaching Israel's High Court.
Aysar (14) who is from Susiaya spoke of what peace means to him, and Eid translated. He began by saying, "Peace is one of the names of God."
Kate Gould, Legislative Representative, Middle East Policy at the Friends Committee on National Legislation, presented the overview, showing maps and urging Senators and Representatives to make their calls to the Israeli Embassy now to assure that Susiya, Umm Al Kheir, Al Aqaba and all the Palestinian villages in Area C remain standing.
Tamsin Avra, Contact Congress Coordinator for Rebuilding Alliance explained that we've held more than 105 briefing meetings with Senate and House staff in this past year and thanked the many who took action, public or private to keep Susiya standing and to keep Al Aqaba and Um Al Kheir villages safe.
Donna Baranski-Walker introduced everyone, bringing forward the urgency of this day as a surge of demolitions is underway with more homes and barns and water systems destroyed in 2016 than in any year in the last decade, asking them to make their calls to the Israeli Embassy and the U.S. State Department, privately or publicly, to halt the demolitions and press for Palestinian control of their own building permits.
It was Sadin (8) from Umm Al Kheir who described in her own words what peace means to her. By then, many in the audience were in tears.
The following Congressional offices were represented at our Sept. 21 Senate briefing:
Sen. Boxer (D-CA) - Legislative Research Assistant
Sen. Baldwin (D-WI) - Staff Assistant, Intern
Sen. Merkley (D-OR) - Legislative Correspondent
Sen. Scott (R-SC) - Legislative Correspondent
Sen. Murkowski (R-AK) - Staff Assistant
Sen. Isakson (R-GA) - Public Policy Fellow
Sen. Baldwin (D-WI) - Staff Assistant
Sen. Collins (R-ME) - Intern
Sen. Bennet (D-CO - Intern
Sen. Kaine (D-VA) - Legislative Correspondent
Sen. Sanders (D-VT) - Intern
Sen. King (I-VA) - Intern
Rep. Blumenaur (D-OR) - Legislative Assistant
Rep. Capuano (D-MA) - Legislative Intern, Intern
Rep. Williams (R-TX) - Intern
Rep. Moulton (D-MA) - Intern
Rep. Engel (D-NY) - Intern
Rep. Ellison (D-MN) - Intern
Rep. Kennedy (D-MA) - Intern
Rep. Lowenthal (D-CA) - Intern
Rep. Lofgren (D-CA) - Intern
Rep. Lynch (D-MA) - Intern
Rep. Polis (D-CO) - Intern
Rep. Pocan (D-WI)- Intern
Senator Diane Feinstein met with the villagers on Monday, just before they caught their plane for the long flight home.
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, we were joined by Kate Gould from the Friends Committee on National Legislation and her assistant, Leah Muskin-Pierret, as well 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.
What does peace mean to me?
Face to face with children of Palestinian villages slated for demolition
On International Peace Day, Sept. 21, 2015, Rebuilding Alliance was honored to bring a delegation of Palestinian children from Susiya and from Umm Al Kheir Village, their distinguished parents and an Israeli member of Villages Group, to share their visions of peace with Congress.
The children of Susiya and Um Al Kheir made Pinwheels for Peace, writing down what peace means and drawing what it looks like.
Their parents, Fatma Nawaje and Eid and Naima Hthaleen explained why Susiya and Um Al Kheir must be allowed to live and build on the land that they legally own. Israeli David Massey explained why Villages Group, like many other Israeli and international organizations, are deeply committed to the safety and security of their friends in Palestinian villages in the South Hebron Hills.
Together, we asked Congress to support the right of Palestinian villages to plan, live, and imagine a peaceful future for themselves and their families on the land they own, free from demolition and displacement.
Starting with visits to Congress in June, Rebuilding Alliance met or conferenced with some 50 congressional offices throughout the summer and fall of 2015 to brief staff on the situation in Susiya and enable constituents to request intervention. We asked for two simple actions: to call the State Department and the Israeli Embassy to tell them you care about peace and you care about Susiya.
To stay updated on our Congressional outreach program, register for a conference call with your Senators and Representative by clicking the link below: