On Friday, November 4, Federation President Hanna Hanania gathered together the Youth Summit, the AFRP Executive Committee and Federation Board Members on Capitol Hill and at the State Department to represent the AFRP and Palestinian interests in the pursuit of justice. In addition, we were warmly welcomed by the PLO Delegation to the United States and the Ramallah Club of Washington, D.C.
The day began with a trip to Capitol Hill and concluded with lunch at the PLO Delegation from Ambassador Dr. Husam S. Zomlot and his staff. I found the experience enthralling coupled with feelings of empowerment as a participant of this active organization resonated throughout the day. Generally speaking our organization’s focus has been more devoted to cultural celebration, honoring our family heritage, and charitable giving; things I very much admire and support. There are too few actors in the U.S. who seek to show the cultural, less political side of being Palestinian and Palestinian American. There is a palatable sense of activism and engagement among the new generations (i.e., millennials) emerging throughout the country, including within our very own leadership, and thus, many of us are asking for more than what the status quo has to offer. Yes, we continue to support scholarships to our Ramallah community in the U.S. and in Ramallah, and as the Education Fund Secretary, I commend this and support it wholeheartedly. But the question many of us came asking was, “what else can be done to help our brethren in Palestine whose collective voice we can echo here in the States?”
Joining me on this day were Tyler Bateh and Jacob Bateh (Florida) along with Stephen Shatarah (New York) and Sonya Kassis (Michigan) in addressing Florida Senators and House Representatives. As a group, we advocated our positions in regards to the Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions (BDS) movement as well as to the humanitarian needs of Palestinians. Meeting with Congressman John Rutherford and his Legislative Assistant, Jarrett Catlin, Congressman Rutherford shared his personal experiences of traveling to Palestine and reflected that despite the number of checkpoints having decreased that this did not necessarily imply an achievement or betterment for Palestinians. He went on to say that having less checkpoints means more time for Palestinians waiting to travel to their next location. As his humanity is apparent and much appreciated, we also shared with him our desires for reduction in Israeli settlements in the West Bank and a request from the Ramallah community in Jacksonville that he keep them abreast when voting on resolutions and bills directly affecting the Israeli-Palestinian conflict . I also was a part of the meeting with Senator Bill Nelson’s National Security Advisor, Matt Williams. Mr. Williams and his legislative assistant shared with us that Senator Nelson does not believe Israeli settlements are conducive to the peace process. An observation we agreed with him, which led us to ask what else can we do as Palestinian Americans to continue to support the interests of Palestine. A constant theme throughout the meetings that was shared with us was to continue making our voices heard on Capitol Hill, as some of the Jewish community and Zionist supporters do so well.
I felt the most lasting impression we had left was visiting the State Department as one strong, cohesive and representative group. It was for me a moment of personal growth. I began in D.C. as an intern working for the United Nations Association – National Capital, where I was at the State Department hosting a Model U.N. summit for local high school students. I thought to myself, would not it be great to be here one day representing Palestine and Palestinian American interests. That day came. Meeting with Michael Ratney, Deputy Assistant Secretary to the State Department, he was quite transparent on his views in regards to the BDS movement. Ratney was unapologetic on his position that U.S. interests do not coincide with the BDS movement. We did not agree with him and many of us noted how the BDS movement has increased awareness of the occupation and has globally impacted the Israeli economy. A shift in the narrative from what Israel and their supporters have so longingly created for the world to believe. I did agree with him that as Palestinian Americans, we should continue to support the economic development of Ramallah and Palestine.
What became apparent as the day went on is that we as an organization need to continue to encourage emerging leaders and knowledgeable community members to visit U.S. Representatives and Senators and the State Department to make our voices and platforms heard and acted upon and the momentum must move forward. Now is our time, not only to support our Palestinian brothers and sisters directly, but to share our concerns as one voice to our politicians at all levels. We are no less than any other group in the U.S., and we must engage while the Israeli and Zionist lobbies are losing the narrative. I thank President Hanania and the Federation for this opportunity, and I hope my story encourages the Federation and others to continue the momentum.