Two "Dear Colleague" letters are being circulated in the House this week concerning the siege in Gaza. Just Foreign Policy is asking constituents to email their Representatives and ask them to sign on to both of these letters. Below is a summary and full text of both:
The McDermott/Ellison letter calls on President Obama to press for an easing in the Israeli blockade of Gaza by making it easier for Palestinians to leave Gaza and improving their access to necessities such as clean water, food, fuel and medicine. The letter notes that the siege has “devastated livelihoods, entrenched a poverty rate of over 70%, increased dependence on erratic international aid, allowed the deterioration of public infrastructure, and led to the marked decline of the accessibility of essential services.”
Moran/Inglis letter, calls on Secretary of State Clinton to put pressure on the Israeli government to allow Gazan students to travel to study at West Bank universities. The letter notes that the Israeli government has banned such travel since 2000 despite the recommendation of the Bertini report, which was incorporated in the “Road Map”, that Israel should ensure Palestinian access “to schools and universities throughout the West Bank and Gaza,” and a ruling of the Israeli High Court that allowing Gazans to study in the West Bank would likely have “positive humane implications.”
President Barack Obama
The White House
1600 Pennsylvania Avenue
Washington, DC 20500
Dear President Obama,
Thank you for your ongoing work to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and for your commitment of $300 million in U.S. aid to rebuild the Gaza Strip. We write to you with great concern about the ongoing crisis in Gaza.
The people of Gaza have suffered enormously since the blockade imposed by Israel and Egypt following Hamas’s coup, and particularly following Operation Cast Lead. We also sympathize deeply with the people of southern Israel who have suffered from abhorrent rocket and mortar attacks. We recognize that the Israeli government has imposed restrictions on Gaza out of a legitimate and keenly felt fear of continued terrorist action by Hamas and other militant groups. This concern must be addressed without resulting in the de facto collective punishment of the Palestinian residents of the Gaza Strip. Truly, fulfilling the needs of civilians in Israel and Gaza are mutually reinforcing goals.
The unabated suffering of Gazan civilians highlights the urgency of reaching a resolution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and we ask you to press for immediate relief for the citizens of Gaza as an urgent component of your broader Middle East peace efforts. The current blockade has severely impeded the ability of aid agencies to do their work to relieve suffering, and we ask that you advocate for immediate improvements for Gaza in the following areas:
- Movement of people, especially students, the ill, aid workers, journalists, and those with family concerns, into and out of Gaza;
- Access to clean water, including water infrastructure materials,
- Access to plentiful and varied food and agricultural materials;
- Access to medicine and health care products and suppliers;
- Access to sanitation supplies, including sanitation infrastructure materials;
- Access to construction materials for repairs and rebuilding;
- Access to fuel;
- Access to spare parts;
- Prompt passage into and out of Gaza for commercial and agricultural goods; and
- Publication and review of the list of items prohibited to the people of Gaza.
Winter has arrived and the needs of the people grow ever more pressing. For example, the ban on building materials is preventing the reconstruction of thousands of innocent families’ damaged homes. There is also a concern that unrepaired sewage treatment plants will overflow and damage surrounding property and water resources.
Despite ad hoc easing of the blockade, there has been no significant improvement in the quantity and scope of goods allowed into Gaza. Both the number of trucks entering Gaza per month and the number of days the crossings have been open have declined since March. This crisis has devastated livelihoods, entrenched a poverty rate of over 70%, increased dependence on erratic international aid, allowed the deterioration of public infrastructure, and led to the marked decline of the accessibility of essential services.
The humanitarian and political consequences of a continued near-blockade would be disastrous. Easing the blockade on Gaza will not only improve the conditions on the ground for Gaza’s civilian population, but will also undermine the tunnel economy which has strengthened Hamas. Under current conditions, our aid remains little more than an unrealized pledge. Most importantly, lifting these restrictions will give civilians in Gaza a tangible sense that diplomacy can be an effective tool for bettering their conditions.
Your Administration’s overarching Middle East peace efforts will benefit Israel, the Palestinians, and the entire region. The people of Gaza, along with all the peoples of the region, must see that the United States is dedicated to addressing the legitimate security needs of the State of Israel and to ensuring that the legitimate needs of the Palestinian population are met.
Sincerely,[Members of Congress]
Dear Secretary Clinton:
We write to express our concern with Israel’s ban on travel between the West Bank and Gaza as it relates to Gazan students who wish to study in the West Bank.
Like you, we believe that education is a key to prosperity, stability and peace. We applaud your efforts to support educational opportunities for Palestinian youth, including your initiative to increase U.S. funding for Palestinian universities and educational programs in Gaza and the West Bank.
Unfortunately, Israel’s near-total ban on travel from Gaza to the West Bank, even for educational purposes, has meant Gazan students have no access to the many degree programs that are not available in the Gaza Strip, including in humanitarian fields such as occupational and speech therapy. This leaves only the difficult and expensive option of traveling abroad for study – a path available only to a privileged few. For cultural reasons, it is also not a realistic alternative for most of Gaza’s female students, for whom study in the West Bank is the only viable option outside Gaza.
As you know, since 2000, Israel has banned Palestinian students from Gaza from studying at West Bank universities. It has done so despite the recommendation of the Bertini Report, incorporated into the “Road Map,” that “Israel should ensure that all children, students and teachers have full access to schools and universities throughout the West Bank and Gaza”. In 2007, Israel’s High Court of Justice ruled that students from Gaza should be allowed to study in the West Bank because it was “likely to have positive humane implications.” Despite the Court’s recommendation that a mechanism be devised to screen individual applicants as exceptions to the overall policy banning study in the West Bank, in practice, no mechanism has been formulated, and to the best of our knowledge, since this judgment in 2007, Israel has not issued a single entry permit to a Gazan student for the purpose of traveling to study in the West Bank – despite numerous applications.
Toward the end of the 1990s, approximately 1,000 students from Gaza were studying in West Bank institutions. In contrast, very few are studying in the West Bank today. Those that are risk being forcibly removed at any time. The recent case of Berlanty Azzam, a young female student Israeli authorities forcibly deported to Gaza two months before she was due to complete her degree at Bethlehem University, is a stark reminder of the risks these students take in order to pursue an education.
Ensuring that students from Gaza have access to a higher education in the West Bank promotes U.S. foreign policy interests by investing in the future of the region – those bright, talented young people seeking to better themselves and their society.
We urge you to raise this issue with the Israeli government, making clear that the U.S. considers access to higher education, including in the West Bank, a crucial opportunity for Palestinians in Gaza. We urge you to press the Israeli government to end the ban on student travel from Gaza to the West Bank, and in its place establish an effective mechanism to evaluate and approve requests from Gaza residents to study in the West Bank in a timely manner.
Sincerely,[Members of Congress]