Tuesday, July 22, 2014

What Ever Happened to the "Gaza 54"?

In January 2010, a group of 54 House Democrats, later called the "Gaza 54," sent a letter to President Obama urging him to work to end Israel's siege on Gaza.

Here is the text of that letter:
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’ 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 is arriving 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.
Of the 54 signers, 37 of them are still in Congress. 
 
Arizona
RaĂșl M. Grijalva (AZ-03)

California
Lois Capps (CA-24)
Sam Farr (CA-20)
Bob Filner (CA-51) [Ran for mayor; seat now held by Juan Vargas]
Michael Honda (CA-17)
Barbara Lee (CA-13)
George Miller (CA-11)
Loretta Sanchez (CA-46)
Jackie Speier (CA-14)
Pete Stark (CA-15) [Lost re-election; seat now held by Eric Swalwell]
Diane Watson (CA-33) [Retired; seat now held by Karen Bass (CA-37)]
Lynn Woolsey (CA-06) [Retired; seat now held by Jared Huffman (CA-02)]

Connecticut
Jim Himes (CT-04)

Indiana
Andre Carson (IN-07)

Iowa
Bruce Braley (IA-01)

Kentucky
John Yarmuth (KY-03)

Maryland
Elijah Cummings (MD-07)
Donna Edwards (MD-04)

Massachusetts
Michael Capuano (MA-07)
William Delahunt (MA-10) [Retired; seat now held by William Keating (MA-09)]
Stephen Lynch (MA-08)
Jim McGovern (MA-02)
John Olver (MA-01) [no direct successor because of redistricting]
John Tierney (MA-06)

Michigan
John Conyers (MI-13)
John Dingell (MI-12)
Carolyn Kilpatrick (MI-13) [Lost re-election to Hansen Clarke; no direct successor because of redistricting]
 
Minnesota
Keith Ellison (MN-05)
Betty McCollum (MN-04)
James Oberstar (MN-08) [Lost re-election; seat now held by Rick Nolan]

New Jersey
Rush Holt (NJ-12)
Bill Pascrell (NJ-09)
Donald Payne, Sr. (NJ-10) [Died; seat now held by Donald Payne, Jr.]

New York
Yvette Clarke (NY-09)
Maurice Hinchey (NY-22) [Seat lost to redistricting]
Eric Massa (NY-29) [Resigned; seat now held by Tom Reed (NY-23)]
Paul Tonko (NY-20)

North Carolina

David Price (NC-03)

Ohio

Marcy Kaptur (OH-09)
Mary Jo Kilroy (OH-15) [Drawn out of her district]

Oregon
Earl Blumenauer (OR-03)
Peter DeFazio (OR-04)

Pennsylvania
Chaka Fattah (PA-02)
Joe Sestak (PA-07) [Ran for Senate; seat now held by Pat Meehan]

Vermont

Peter Welch (VT-AL)

Virginia
Jim Moran (VA-08)
Glenn Nye (VA-02) [Lost re-election; seat now held by Scott Rigell]

Washington
Brian Baird (WA-03) [Retired; Seat now held by Jaime Herrera Beutler]
Jay Inslee (WA-01) [Now governor; seat now held by Suzan DelBene]
Jim McDermott (WA-07)
Adam Smith (WA-09)

West Virginia
Nick Rahall (WV-03)

Wisconsin
Tammy Baldwin [Now senator; seat now held by Mark Pocan]
Gwen Moore (WI-04)

*
To show the contrast that just a few years can make, Keith Ellison's letter urging the administration to find a cease-fire agreement between Israel and Palestine had only six signers. Four of the six were part of the "Gaza 54": John Conyers (MI-13), Keith Ellison (MN-05), Barbara Lee (CA-13), and Jim  Moran (VA-08).

Hank Johnson (GA-04) signed this letter although he had not been part of the "54."

Alan Lowenthal (CA-47) is a freshman.

Here is the text of the letter:
Dear Mr. President and Secretary Kerry:
We write to urge the administration and the State Department to redouble your efforts to urge Israeli and Palestinian leaders to come to a cease-fire agreement.  The United States can help save Israeli and Palestinian lives by using all diplomatic leverage to work vigorously with U.S. allies to urge for an end to the violence.  Media reports indicate that the parties were close to a cease-fire, however no agreement has been reached and violence persists.  We commend efforts to facilitate a cease-fire and support Israel’s willingness to agree to the terms of the agreement.  We urge the Administration to continue its efforts to facilitate an agreement that will engage and garner support from all parties involved in this cycle of violence.
As you know, this week the first Israeli citizen was killed by a rocket fired from Gaza, and many are living in fear and being forced to routinely seek shelter while Hamas continues indiscriminately launching thousands of rockets into Israel. Since July, 226 Palestinians have been killed—a majority of them civilians.  More than 20,000 have been displaced from their homes and lack food, water and medicine.  Given that Gaza is densely populated and children make up fifty percent of the population, many children have been injured and killed.
Past experience indicates that the current conflict will likely end with a new cease-fire.  Ground troops, air strikes, and rockets do not lead to permanent peace in the Middle East.  The United States government, together with international partners, must redouble our efforts to urge all parties to avoid further loss of life on both sides by coming to a cease-fire.
The relative calm that existed during Secretary Kerry’s recent diplomatic talks between Israel and Palestine shows that engaging in dialogue is the first step towards stopping the violence.  Additional diplomacy is necessary to save lives and create lasting peace.  Finally, the current confrontation proves that a final status agreement in which both Israelis and Palestinians can live in peace and security is urgent and necessary.
Thank you and Secretary Kerry for your recent efforts in this regard.

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