By Larry Gordon
The U.S. Congress is a very busy place. In fact, it is dizzyingly busy. There are long lines of people each morning marching through the metal detectors and past the security personnel at the front door screening those who want to meet or speak to the representatives or senators about one matter or another.
I chose to spend a few days this week in DC to lobby Congress, along with a half dozen men who reside in the hills of the Shomron in Israel and who work with the Shomron Regional Council. And the timing of this event was auspicious, as Secretary of State Kerry was once again trying to piece together the details of an agreement to get Israelis and Arabs to sit at a table and negotiate, after a three-year hiatus.
Why this is so important to Mr. Kerry and President Obama is not really a great mystery. It is essentially about a miserably failed and failing presidency that is tapping around to find a positive achievement somewhere, anywhere in the world, and Israel is a traditional and comfortable target.
In two and a half days, we met a lot of people and attended some extraordinarily fascinating meetings. The two sessions that I want to shed some light on here took place on Tuesday morning in the Rayburn House Office Building in the shadow of the Capitol. The members of the delegation, which included Gershon Mesika, the governor of the Shomron; Yossi Dagan, his deputy governor; and David Ha’ivri, an aide and spokesman, brought some new issues to light for me.
The first meeting was with Congressman Pete Sessions, Republican of Texas, and following that encounter we met with Congresswoman Michele Bachmann, a former candidate for president and a Republican representative from Minnesota.
And here’s the news that was brought home to me as I sat in on these meetings. Big decisions are made routinely in Washington on very skimpy amounts of information. And guess what—it is not the fault of the decision-makers, because they are overwhelmed with issues that need to be decided upon, sometimes under the most trying of circumstances. Mr. Sessions and Ms. Bachman are smart and accomplished individuals, but we cannot expect them to grasp every aspect of every issue in its entirety. Perhaps this is not a surprise or big news either, but the president does not have a great grasp of many of the important issue of the day either.
As you recall, a few years ago when it came to the content of the 2,400-page Obamacare bill presented to Congress, then Democratic Majority Leader Nancy Pelosi, of California, said, “We have to pass the bill so that you can find out what is in it.” Today that seems to be the clarion call in Washington, and that is true even about the life-and-death and war-and-peace matters that so intimately affect Israel and all Jews residing in the Jewish State.
So, Pete Sessions is a smooth and glib man who obviously enjoys being engaged in meeting with a cross section of people. He is a Republican leader and an important friend of Israel in Congress. The delegation from the Shomron was trying to make the following point: we are the people whose land the U.S. and the Europeans are calling “occupied territory” that should be given to the Palestinians as part of their new country if the two-state madness ever comes to reality.
The gentlemen from the Shomron eloquently explain to Congressman Sessions that they are a group that represents over 80 Jewish communities in Judea and Samaria as well as in eastern Jerusalem, in which over 700,000 people reside, that the Arab world and the U.S. State Department, along with the United Nations and the European Union (and along with the recently deceased journalist Helen Thomas) all say that the Jews have to vacate.
So what do they want from Congressman Sessions and from Ms. Bachmann and the two dozen legislators they would meet with through their week here in the halls of power? They want these leaders, these molders and shapers of opinion for millions back home in their districts in Middle America, to know that they are normal, everyday people with wives and children, they are farmers and businessmen who want to live on the land of the Jewish people, the biblical land of Israel, in peace. They don’t want to be toyed with like a yo-yo or be treated as a statistic that can be played with as plans are made to extricate them from their homes and land in the interest of a foreign-policy feather in the cap of an aimlessly wandering secretary of state.
Pete Sessions listens and is genuinely interested and fascinated by these men from Shomron, who they are, their courage, and what they have accomplished. He listens as they explain that the European Union has announced that it will be the official policy of the 28-country union to no longer fund, invest in, or do any business with those in Judea and Samaria or eastern Jerusalem.
Representative Sessions looks lost as he interjects that he knows what they want and need but that he needs information and details because he is just not well versed on these matters. “You have to send me information so I know what I’m talking about,” he says. He explains that he does not operate independently; he is a representative of a district back in Texas—including the vibrant Jewish community in Dallas—with a population of about 800,000. “I would need to consult with my people in Dallas and I would like to make a conference call with them and you on the phone this week if possible,” Mr. Sessions said.
So what do these men from the Shomron want? They want to introduce to those in power the idea that Judea and Samaria are not some flimsy little outposts high on a mountain or obscured deep in the woods somewhere. They want acceptance and legitimacy, and as of today the powers that be here in the U.S. as well as, to an extent, in Israel are denying them that right.
Congressman Sessions then stated straight away, “I’ve decided a long time ago that I take my direction on Israel policy from the Israeli government.” And that makes sense, because how or why should a congressman from Texas disagree with a policy of the duly and democratically elected government of the State of Israel? The only issue is that for their own politically expedient purposes today, the position of the Israeli government calls for a two-state solution, with the new Arab state plopped down in the Shomron.
At this stage of the game all involved quietly understand that this is extremely unlikely to ever happen. However, maintaining those plans on the political drawing board allows the residents of those areas to be vilified regularly by the international community. And the aim of this group is to stop that and, if possible, to turn that negative momentum into something positive.
The delegation invited Representatives Sessions and Bachmann to visit the Shomron on their next trip to Israel. They both agreed to do so and were very surprised to hear that life in the Shomron for both Jews and Arabs is exactly what any kind of peace in the area should look like at the conclusion of the negotiation process (that is, of course, if it ever gets started).
Today there is an industrial zone in the Shomron with over 80 factories that employ over 6,500 men and women. Half are Arabs and half are Jews. They have worked together side by side successfully and without incident for many years already. They are all paid on an Israeli standard, which means that the Arab workers are earning 300% more than they would be if they had jobs in their own towns. This message leaves some of the representatives dumbstruck, and they ask for more information like a thirsty man asking for a bottle of water.
“I’ve been to Israel at least five times,” says Congresswoman Bachmann, a great friend of Israel. “But,” she adds, “AIPAC does not want me to or allow me to visit areas in Judea and Samaria.” In fact, she adds, AIPAC insists that when she is in Israel, she visit Palestinian leaders in Ramallah rather than Jews building lives and communities in the Shomron. She said that the last time she was in a meeting in Ramallah staring at a large framed portrait of Yasser Arafat, she promised herself that she was not going to subject herself to that again.
She promised Gershon Mesika that on her next visit to Israel she would come to the Shomron. She said that she was very much looking forward to it.
The Shomron folks made great inroads and friends in DC, but there is a lot more to do. v
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