Keith Ellison (L) and Brian Baird in Gaza
Two American members of Congress, Brian Baird (D-WA) and Keith Ellison (D-MN) visited the Gaza Strip last week, in the first such visit since the Hamas coup in 2005. A joint press release issued last Thursday included the following:
“The stories about the children affected me the most,” said Ellison. “No parent, or anyone who cares for kids, can remain unmoved by what Brian and I saw here.”
“The amount of physical destruction and the depth of human suffering here is staggering” said Baird, “Entire neighborhoods have been destroyed, schools completely leveled, fundamental needs such as water, sewer, and electricity facilities have been hit and immobilized. Relief agencies, themselves, have been heavily damaged. The personal stories of children being killed in their homes or schools; of entire families wiped out, and relief workers prevented from evacuating the wounded are heart wrenching. What went on here? And what is continuing to go on, is shocking and troubling beyond words.” the Washington state Congressman said…
The Congressmen’s concerns about treatment of Palestinians were not limited to Gaza. They also visited Palestinian hospitals that treat patients from East Jerusalem and the West Bank. There they met with doctors, nurses and hospital directors who described how official Israeli policies restrict border checkpoints which make it exceedingly difficult and expensive for patients, nurses, medical technicians, and other essential personnel to reach the hospital to receive or provide care.
Now read the above again, pretending that you are an attorney cross-examining a witness. How much of the above testimony represents what the congressmen actually saw with their eyes and how much what they were told by their Palestinian (that is, Hamas) guides? How much is actual evidence and how much is hearsay provided by interested parties?
Really the only part of their statement that might be the fruit of actual observation is the statement that “the amount of physical destruction…is staggering”. Is it true? Tim Butcher of the UK Telegraph, no partisan of Israel, wrote:
One thing was clear. Gaza City 2009 is not Stalingrad 1944. There had been no carpet bombing of large areas, no firebombing of complete suburbs. Targets had been selected and then hit, often several times, but almost always with precision munitions. Buildings nearby had been damaged and there had been some clear mistakes, like the firebombing of the UN aid headquarters. But, in most [of] the cases, I saw the primary target had borne the brunt…
But, for the most part, I was struck by how cosmetically unchanged Gaza appeared to be. It has been a tatty, poorly-maintained mess for decades and the presence of fresh bombsites on streets already lined with broken kerbstones and jerry-built buildings did not make any great difference.
So in other words, yes of course the place is damaged — after all, a war was fought there — but the characterization of massive, wanton, gratuitous damage, particularly to civilian structures is unwarranted.
Here’s more from the congressmen:
Ellison, who is the first Muslim to be elected to Congress, recalled how they had walked on a road where a number of the homes had been flattened by the IDF.
“We came upon a temporary shelter, it was just cinder blocks that were set up in an eight by 10 square, and they had some kind of a tarp and a sheet over it to stop the rain. They were making tea and we walked up and said, ‘Salaam aleikum,” Ellison said. The people in the shelter welcomed them and made them tea.
“We asked them how are you coping with all of this, and they talked to us,” he said. “They told us their stories. I will admit and I was a little reluctant to say that I was an American congressmen. Quite frankly, it might have been the IDF launching the bombs, but they all said made in America.”
Still, “no treated us with anything but the greatest respect and kindness,” Ellison said.
All this happened entirely by chance, of course.
Baird said he was particularly troubled by the “apparent targeting” of hospitals, schools and relief centers. It would be a “remarkable coincidence if the rounds accidentally fell” on those institutions, he said.
And of course, it wasn’t a coincidence, as the IDF documentation of weapons hidden in schools, etc. amply demonstrated.
As a licensed neuropsychologist and the father of twin four-year-old boys, he was particularly struck by the remains of what had been a play area for children in a treatment center at Al-Quds Hospital, which had Disney characters painted on the walls. “It is very disconcerting to say the least,” he said.
Similarly, he said, it was upsetting to see that an American school had also been bombed, “of all the iconic things you could destroy,” he said. The bombing had not only killed people, but also “an institution that taught core American values like tolerance,” Baird said.
With all due respect, I do not believe that “core American values” are taught anywhere in Hamas-run Gaza. Here is an example of what Hamas children are taught.
At the school, he found a little book on baseball with a question the teacher had asked about legendary first baseman Jackie Robinson, who broke the color line in the major leagues. “They are trying to teach Israel about tolerance using baseball, for goodness sakes, and that is now destroyed,” Baird said. — Jerusalem Post
American values, baseball and Disney, all bombed by cruel Israel. No wonder they were upset!
Baird and Ellison, it seems, were given a tour by Hamas officials and then dutifully reported their point of view. They did make the obligatory statement that rocket attacks on Israel from Gaza had to stop, but they certainly didn’t appear to think that the rocket attacks had anything to do with the Israeli operation:
“The first and most urgent priority must be to help the people in Gaza. At the same time, the rocket attacks against Israeli cities must stop immediately. Just as the people of Gaza should not be subject to what they have experienced, the Israeli civilians should not have to live in fear of constant and indiscriminate rocketing.”
One would think from the above that parallel natural catastrophes had occurred to Gaza and Israel, with Gaza’s being worse!
The congressmen also visited Sderot and Ashkelon, but although they ‘condemned’ the rocket attacks, the thrust of their recommendations was that the US needs to force Israel to make concessions to the Palestinians:
“If our colleagues had seen what we have seen, I think their understanding of the situation would be significantly impacted,” he said. “They would care about what happened to the Palestinians.”
Baird added that he hoped they, as well as members of the Obama administration, would come away with a sense that “the US has a responsibility to insist on a change in the situation in Gaza and the situation in the West Bank.”
The congressman said he would like to see more humanitarian aid and goods reaching the people of Gaza, accompanied by open border crossings that would allow Palestinians to travel for trade and medical care.
He also said he was troubled by the American origin of so much of the IDF weaponry used in Gaza, and suggested that the US should reconsider the military aid it provides and the weapons it sells to Israel.
“We need to use every pressure available to make these needed changes happen,” he said. — Jerusalem Post