Washington Report on Middle East Affairs, August/September 2001, page 63
Southern California Chronicle
Darrell Issa Discusses Congressional Views of Mideast At Orange County Arab American Republican Club
By Pat and Samir Twair
The Orange County Arab American Republican Club honored Darrell Issa, freshman congressman from California’s 48th district, at a June 30 dinner at the Anaheim Marriott Hotel.
Representative Issa, who sits on the International Relations Committee, acknowledged that the powerful entity devotes at least one-third of its time on issues dealing with the Middle East. Allowing that he doesn’t agree with his Democratic constituents David Bonior and John Dingell on other legislation, Issa said he is their colleague when it comes to the Middle East.
When heads of state from the region testify, he explained, sessions are closed. In one such closed meeting, Issa said, he was appalled at how Congressmen Tom Lantos (D-CA) and Benjamin Gilman (R-NY) “brutalized” Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak with accusations that he had not convinced Palestinian President Yasser Arafat to cooperate with Israel.
Issa said he was impressed by the Egyptian leader’s grasp of diplomatic minutiae. Mubarak admitted that some of what was offered the Palestinian leader was good, but noted it was President Bill Cinton’s offer, not Israel’s.
The Egyptian president stressed that he advised Arafat there was no guarantee of what Israel would offer and, even if Arafat accepted Clinton’s offer, it still remained to be seen whether then-Prime Minister Ehud Barak and the Israeli Knesset would approve Washington’s proposal.
At that moment, Issa said, he admired Mubarak’s finesse and ability to put Lantos and Gilman in their place.
“Arafat wasn’t offered sovereignty,” he continued. “There already are two Palestines: Gaza and the West Bank. The settlements are slicing the West Bank into pieces; we must have a contiguous Palestine or there will not be a sovereign nation.”
When Representative Gilman insisted in session that Arafat was to blame for refusing the best offer he would ever receive, Issa retorted that the Zionists had turned down offers made to Israel and had waged war to gain control of 80 percent of historical Palestine.
The good news, Issa told his audience, is that committee chair Henry Hyde gave him permission to write a proposal to Congress congratulating Syria and Israel for their partial withdrawal from Lebanon and asking them to reposition completely outside Lebanon’s borders.
“This means Syria must withdraw from the Bekaa Valley and Israel must get out of the Shebaa Farms,” he said. “The hard part is that Lebanon must ensure a tranquil area in the south, which means the end of Hezbollah control.
“It’s no secret that Iran puts lots of money into south Lebanon,” Issa continued, “so the U.S. will have to replace this with military and humanitarian aid in order for Lebanon to secure its borders.”
Issa noted that Lantos’ bill to kill $60 million in aid to Lebanon for non-governmental organizations, the American University of Beirut and educational programs, spurred him to educate his fellow congressmen that it was terrible to deprive Lebanon of humanitarian assistance.
“Every week, the American Israel Public Affairs Committee is behind a new initiative,” Issa said. “I decided then and there I had to take a stand and launch an effort every month. I’m convinced the only way to solve these problems is to work behind the scenes, taking one bite at a time.”
When the California congressman stated that Israel is operating “the only form of apartheid in the world,” he was told by an AIPAC-funded colleague that he couldn’t say such a thing.
Replied Issa: “I already have.”
“I leave you with one thing,” he concluded. “Apartheid is the Achilles’ heel of Israel. It is easy for Americans to understand, if the word gets out, that Israel is holding millions of people captive without the right to vote.”
The outspoken legislator expressed his doubts that Palestinians will ever gain the right of return, but “all the Palestinians born there will get the right to vote.”
Issa emphasized that he did not sign on to a measure calling Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon a war criminal because it would then be hypocritical for him to call Palestinians freedom fighters instead of “terrorists,” as Israel claims.
The OCAARC’s Nick Dibs also reported on his June 28 meeting with the State Department to protest the torture and detention of U.S. citizens by the Israeli government. Dibs said there is a pattern of Israel arresting Americans who have family in Jerusalem or who own property there and holding them in prison for years.
New Horizon School to break ground in Irvine
Opening ceremonies for the New Horizon elementary school in Irvine—the second Islamic school in Orange County—are scheduled for Sept. 8.
Hossam Elshiwick, chairman of the building project, said the school founders were faced with objections by residents of Rancho Santa Margarita who claimed the Islamic campus would create traffic problems. The city of Irvine welcomed the Muslims, and construction began last year.
The Irvine school is affiliated with Pasadena’s New Horizon School and is accredited by the California Association of Independent Schools and the Western Association of Schools and Colleges. Approximately 180 students will receive instruction at the school. Reem Khalaf will be in charge of preschool and kindergarten, and Omar Ezzeddine will direct elementary grades.
Rihab Barakat Mourned
A memorial service was held May 29 for Rihab Yacoub Barakat in the Southern California Islamic Center. Rihab, who was born Dec. 5, 1933 in the West Bank village of Anabta, passed away May 28 following an extended illness.
After what her children describe as a Romeo and Juliet romance, she wed Adel Barakat in August 1955. Adel taught school in Kuwait before the couple emigrated to California, where he invested in real estate. The family eventually settled in Moorpark, CA.
The Barakats have been active in Palestinian causes, and their children grew up participating in demonstrations and projects calling for the establishment of an independent Palestinian state. The couple also funded the Yacoub Family Charitable Association, which provided Palestinian and Jordanian students with scholarships to study in the U.S. or Russia.
During the memorial service, Adel announced that Rihab had bestowed $100,000 to her village of Anabta and $200,000 to an-Najah University in Nablus.
Rihab is survived by her husband, children Nidal Adalah, Abdul, Manal and Mohammed, and 16 grandchildren.
Women in Black Stage June 8 Vigil in L.A.
June 8 was the date Women in Black set for a solidarity vigil in 144 cities throughout the world. In Los Angeles, more than 150 activists gathered at the Westwood Federal Building to call for an end to the Israeli occupation of the West Bank and Gaza.
The demonstration was under the direction of Tirza Habib, who was joined by four rabbis, parishioners of the Pasadena Mennonite church, Catholic sisters, and Palestinian and Israeli peace activists.
Cars passing the Wilshire Boulevard area, termed the busiest traffic corridor in the U.S., honked their approval of the black-clad demonstrators, which included a sizable number of men. More demonstrations are planned.
Open Tent Roundtables Shed New Light on Hidden Topics
A series of roundtable discussions explored many facets of the Israeli-Palestinian crisis at a May 20 international conference at UCLA sponsored by the Open Tent Middle East Coalition. Notes from the conversations will be published and presented to academics and members of the U.S. Congress and Israeli Knesset.
Topics ranged from “How Do We Rebuild Trust on Both Sides?” to “Children of Abraham: Crossroads of Three Faiths.”
At a roundtable entitled “Palestinian and Israeli Women on a New Middle East,” Israeli peace proponent Gila Svirsky enumerated an impressive list of Israeli women’s organizations who are calling for justice for the Palestinians.
Svirsky is a member of the Coalition of Women for a Just Peace which was organized last Nov. 8 at the beginning of the current intifada.
Since the coalition was formed, Svirsky said, activists have become more adventurous in their forms of resistance. The first activity calling for an end to Israel’s military occupation occurred when demonstrators blocked the entry to the Ministry of Defense and 17 were arrested.
“Our views are more progressive than those of Peace Now,” she stated. “We specialize in a diversity of activities ranging from taking food supplies to blockaded Palestinian towns to dismantling barriers. We’re tired of demonstrations—the time has come to overturn the situation by engaging in civil disobedience. Sometimes this is lying down in the streets of Tel Aviv or chaining ourselves to olive trees about to be uprooted by Israeli bulldozers.”
Svirsky says Palestinian women join in their activities whenever possible, and that since last March men have joined them, including members of Rabbis for Human Rights.
Groups in the coalition include Women in Black, Women and Mothers for Peace, TANDI (Democratic Women of Israel), Women Engendering Peace, New Profile (which supports conscientious objectors), Neled (Women for Coexistence), Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom, Noga (a feminist magazine) and Machsom-Watch (women who monitor and prevent human rights violations at checkpoints).
Fellow panelist Dr. Laila al-Marayati, who only days earlier had resigned from her seat on the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom, said she doesn’t distinguish gender in the pursuit of liberation. Her uncles, she noted, who still live in the Gaza city of Khan Younis, tell her that life today is as dangerous as in 1948.
Dr. Marayati’s voice reverberated with her disdain for Israeli propaganda that says Palestinian women are intentionally sending their children to their deaths in the new intifada. “This is dehumanizing,” she averred. “It reflects racism that suggests Muslims do not love their children as other people do.
“Ninety thousand Palestinian children are prevented from going to school. The kids throw stones at tanks because there is nothing else to do. If her son is killed, a mother finds some solace in saying he died as a martyr. When she buries her 16-year-old, she seeks comfort in saying he was a good boy and will go to heaven. But this does not mean she is proud of his death.”
In the U.S., Marayati pointed out, if there is a shooting on a school campus, psychologists immediately come to the site to counsel students. “Imagine the terror of Palestinian children going through nightly bombing raids and there is no professional help to soothe their terror,” she said. “I am reaching out to women of the world to believe that all our children have value and worth.”
During the question-and-answer period, Svirsky said the soft left has now become the soft right in Israel. Women on both sides who reach out to each other are considered pariahs, traitors to their respective camps.
When asked if the Palestinians are interested more in the right of return or separatism, Svirsky replied the foremost problem is how to end the occupation.
Marayati noted that “several issues are not mutually exclusive. Telling Palestinians they can only return to over-populated Gaza or slivers of the West Bank is not adequate.”
Another question dealt with the role of the United Nations in seeking peace.
“If the U.N. could do more, it would help,” Marayati opined, “but Israel accuses it of being pro-Palestinian and therefore won’t accept the U.N. as an honest broker.
Another roundtable was dedicated to the “End of Occupation/Fate of the Settlements.” Participants were Dr. Riad Abdelkarim, Prof. May Seikaly, Jane Hunter and David Pine.
“Every Palestinian has had an experience with a settler,” stated Dr. Abdelkarim, who made a medical relief trip last January to Jenin, a West Bank town of 250,000 people.
“The occupation has the effect of a double whammy on Palestinians whose land is taken from them to build a settlement,” he continued, “and then they see foreigners living in nice homes on their confiscated land.
“The symptoms of apartheid are everywhere,” Abdelkarim said. “Palestinians have different colored license plates, and they must carry identity cards banning them from most areas. Palestinians live in squalor next to Israeli luxury.”
A case in point, he said, is the settlement of Ma’ale Adumim, where an air-conditioned shopping center offers all the merchandise of a U.S. mall. It is like another planet to the excluded Palestinians who live in shanties with rationed water and sporadic electricity service.
The California physician noted that Gaza is broken into three enclaves and how difficult it is for doctors to move from one hospital to the next.
As for the right of return, Dr. Abdelkarim said the Israelis claim it would be national suicide to allow Palestinian refugees to return. Yet, he argued, if the refugees in Lebanon were to return only one percent of Israelis would be affected.
“There simply is no precedent for refugees to be prevented from returning to their national origin,” he concluded.
Jane Hunter of the Coalition for Justice in Hawaiian Gardens and Jerusalem said that one man, Irving Moskowitz, can make or break peace in the Middle East.
“Without Moskowitz, chances are most extremist settlers wouldn’t have the money to do what they do,” she stated. “The Hawaiian Gardens bingo parlor (and casino which is awaiting its license) sends millions of dollars to fanatics who stage move-ins in Jerusalem.”
Moskowitz, who grew up in Milwaukee but claims to be a Holocaust victim, finances the purchase of highly sensitive properties to block peace, Hunter continued. Among his cheering section in the U.S., she said, is Morton Klein and his Zionist Organization of America, which make vicious attacks on moderate Muslims.
Can Moskowitz be stopped? Hunter asked rhetorically.
So far, California Attorney General Bill Lockyear has not granted a license to Moskowitz’s casino. In order to operate a casino, the proprietor must be of good character. Hunter said her organization has brought to the attention of the attorney general’s office that Moskowitz’ wife, Sherna, has a Web site with an assassination game that targets Israeli peace activists. Moskowitz runs Hawaiian Gardens, the smallest and poorest city in Los Angeles County, as if it were his plantation, Hunter said. The city is in debt to build the casino, and residents are too intimidated to complain.
For more information, visit <www.stopmoskowitz.com>.
When asked why RAND, the CIA and other U.S. corporate interests give the green light to settlements, Hunter replied that Israel’s far-right movement is backed by the government. “There is a vacuum of opposition that allows the extremists to be tolerated,” she said, “because it is too expensive to oppose them.”
Professor Seikaly added that President Jimmy Carter had tried to stop the settlements, and that it is costly for Israel to subsidize them, but nevertheless the Zionist plan to buy land in the heart of Arab territory is perpetuated.
For more information on the proceedings papers to be released by Open Tent, visit <www.opentent.org>. ❑
Pat and Samir Twair are free-lance journalists based in Los Angeles.