by Tim Sallinger

WASHINGTON, D.C. — Concerned citizens and Congressional staffers convened on Capitol Hill March 8 to hear the riveting stories of two people with deep ties to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Laila El-Haddad, a Palestinian from Gaza, lives in Maryland with her children and husband, a Palestinian refugee denied the right to return to his homeland. Her parents currently live in Gaza.

Two seats down from El-Haddad sat Elik Elhanan, an Israeli former IDF soldier. In 1997 his 14-year-old sister was killed when two Palestinian suicide bombers blew themselves up in central Jerusalem.

The two speakers had a common, peaceful message. Both demanded that Israel end its occupation of the Palestinian territories, and that the U.S. cease its military aid to the government of Israel.

“The impact of military aid to Israel is terrible, is disastrous for the entire region,” Elhanan said. “[It] is responsible for the fact that we are dying for such a long time. And when I say ‘we,’ I talk about all the people who die from the actions of my government, be they Israeli or Palestinian.”

AFSC organized the panel, sponsored by Interfaith Peace-Builders and the U.S. Campaign to End the Israeli Occupation. The entire event can be viewed on YouTube.

Miryam Rashid, director of the AFSC’s Middle East program, said it brought a unique perspective to Washington.

“Our government shows such little understanding of the impact of U.S. foreign policy on peoples’ daily lives,” Rashid said. “Members of Congress, administration officials, U.S. citizens---everybody should see the briefing.”

El-Haddad spoke first, describing freedom of movement within Gaza. Military checkpoints and separation walls in the Gaza Strip “do more than simply inconvenience Palestinians,” she said. “They paralyze life and livelihoods.”

The situation in Gaza is very important to the Palestinian writer, who fears for her family’s safety. On her blog she described getting phone calls from her parents during the 2009 Israeli bombing of Gaza.

“When the bombs are dropped around them, they send me a quick note to inform me of what happened before running to safety. I am still not sure where ‘safety’ is; and neither, I think, do they. In Gaza, there is no ‘safe.’ And there is nowhere to flee to, with the borders closed, the sky and sea under siege.”

Elik Elhanan is a co-founder of Combatants for Peace (CFP), a group composed of both Palestinian and Israeli ex-fighters who decided to lay down their arms and seek a nonviolent end to the conflict and an end to the Israeli occupation.

The former soldier provided insight into how prevalent political outlooks among Israelis are shaped by U.S. foreign policy. Military culture is deeply rooted in Israeli society, he said.

“Israel is an army with a state, rather than the other way around. And the military is still the most important social fact in Israeli life.”

From an early age, Israelis are taught that the oppression of Palestinians is a “necessary evil,” that Israel must defend itself from its enemies, he said.

“As long as [there is] this delusion that only power can maintain Israel…our fight is an uphill fight. This delusion will go on as long as you keep financing it.”