Diplomatic Pouch / January 5, 2011
By Larry Luxner
It happened to be the first night of Hanukkah, but lighting the menorah wasn’t on the agenda for this particular event — International Day of Solidarity with the Palestinian People.
Rather, some 400 people gathered to honor four activists who, according to the PLO’s top diplomat here, “have devoted their lives to serve the cause of justice and peace in Palestine.” The lavish reception, held Dec. 1 in the ballroom of the Ritz-Carlton Hotel in Pentagon City, Va., came complete with humus, roasted lamb, heaping plates of rice, goat cheese and Arab pastries.
For now, peace talks between the Israelis and Palestinians have hit yet another dead end, although the hope of an independent Palestinian state was as palpable as ever during the festivities.
“On behalf of the General Delegation of the PLO, I welcome you all to this event, which is meant to remind the international community that 63 years after the United Nations’ 1947 partition of Palestine into a Jewish state and an Arab state, there is still no Palestinian state,” declared Maen Rashid Areikat, chief representative of the Palestinian Authority mission in Washington.
“Israel is adamant in its refusal to comply with UN resolutions, and continues to undermine efforts made by the entire world and particularly those of the United States to end the conflict,” continued Areikat. “Settlement-building in the West Bank, the Judaization of Jerusalem and the siege of Gaza show that Israel is not sincere and genuine in its desire to end the occupation.”
The evening’s most emotional moment came when George R. Salem, a prominent Washington lawyer who served as President Bush’s representative to the funeral of PLO leader Yasser Arafat, presented a “Peace and Justice Award” to Craig and Cindy Corrie.
They are the parents of Rachel Corrie, the 23-year-old activist from Olympia, Wash., who was crushed to death in 2003 by an Israeli bulldozer while trying to stop it from demolishing a house in the Gaza Strip.
“Unlike so many others, Rachel wasn’t content watching from the sidelines. She felt compelled to stand up against the injustices she witnessed,” Salem told the crowd, adding that Corrie was “inspired by the nonviolent philosophies of both Gandhi and Martin Luther King Jr.”
Yet seven years after her death, Corrie is a hated figure among many Israelis who view her death as fodder for the PLO propaganda machine. At the moment, her parents are seeking unspecified compensation from Israel’s Defense Ministry, which claims the bulldozer operator didn’t see her and that Corrie’s death was accidental — a version her parents angrily reject.
Besides the Corries, others honored last week by the PLO for their protests against Israeli actions in the long-running conflict include Eugene Bird, former president of the Council for National Interest; the late Dr. Peter Anton Gubser, former president of American Near East Refugee Aid (ANERA), and Farouk Shami, a prominent Houston hair-care executive who earlier this year ran for governor of Texas — but lost.
Bird, who as past-president of CNI has a long history of railing against America’s financial and military aid to Israel, told his audience that “tomorrow morning, Hillary Clinton should recommend to the president recognition of the Palestinian state now. It’s been too long. After all, Harry Truman issued an edict and recognized Israel without specifying borders, and he didn’t have to ask for a single vote on the Hill. The same could be true of Obama.”
Shami, who was born and raised in Ramallah, the West Bank’s largest city, ran into controversy earlier this year when he was photographed in Houston wearing a keffiyeh around his neck embroidered with “Palestine” on one end and “Jerusalem is Ours” on the other. But he made no apologies for advocating for a Palestinian state — touted by most experts as the only feasible long-term solution for the decades-long conflict.
“Some of us are Palestinians by birth, some by choice. I’m glad to be both,” he said to loud applause. “Human rights does not exist for our people. We must pressure Israel and our congressmen and senators. We must have the independent state our people have been waiting for. We are the people of the land. Long live Palestine!”
Not surprisingly, few Jews were in the Ritz-Carlton ballroom that night, though the list of invited guests did include Dylan J. Williams, deputy director of government affairs at J Street, which describes itself as “the political home for pro-Israel, pro-peace Americans.”
Williams told The Diplomatic Pouch that several Palestinians came up after the speeches were over to wish him a Happy Hanukkah; he, in turn, wished them “Eid Mubarak,” though the lobbyist declined to say anything beyond that for public consumption.
The day after, Williams told us in a prepared statement: “I am pleased to have had the opportunity at this event to connect with other attendees who share J Street’s commitment to vigorous and sustained U.S. engagement in achieving a two-state resolution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.”