Calling the crisis in the West Bank and Gaza “an enormous human tragedy that cannot be solved by war,” journalist and Communist Party Vice Chair Judith Le Blanc last week told northern California audiences that it is urgent for Americans to act now for peace and justice in the Middle East. She said Palestinians and Israelis told her that while half the responsibility to resolve the crisis is theirs, the other half is in the hands of the American people.

Le Blanc, who spent two weeks in the West Bank, Gaza and Israel with a delegation from Fellowship of Reconciliation (FOR), was joined at a public meeting in Oakland by Hanan Rasheed, national executive secretary of the Palestinian American Congress, and Rebecca Vilkomerson, an activist with Bay Area Jewish Voice for Peace (JVP).

All three emphasized the role of ordinary people in spreading understanding of the depth of the devastation and crisis the Sharon government’s attacks have wrought in Palestine, and in asserting democratic control over U.S. foreign policy to serve the needs of the great majority of Americans, Israelis and Palestinians.

“It is a crisis that is all-sided, and requires a political solution, including international intervention,” Le Blanc said. Discussions must start from the fact that despite the ultra-right’s powerful efforts, major polls show that a majority in Palestine, Israel and the U.S. – even among backers of the Sharon government’s actions – supports a two-state solution, she added.

“It isn’t enough to build a movement in solidarity with the Palestinian people alone,” Le Blanc said, “because U.S. foreign policy is an issue of democracy.” She called for bringing the solidarity movements, including the movement in support of the Colombian people and others, together to affect the 2002 elections.

Le Blanc cited Peace Action’s call to freeze all U.S. military aid and arms sales or transfers to Israel until the Sharon government commits not to use the funds for military occupation in the Palestinian territories. “Waging such a fight is to bring up the age-old issue of whether our government should fund guns or butter,” she said.

Rasheed called on media in the U.S. and Israel to be “pro-truth, not pro-Palestine or pro-Israel. “If the people of the U.S. and Israel know exactly what the Israeli military is doing to the Palestinians, they will not support the Israeli government,” she emphasized.

“When we send billions in arms, a three-year-old child in Palestine knows what kinds of weapons these are and who sent them,” she said. “At what price do we support Israel? We need to take responsibility as Americans because I believe everything gets decided in Washington, not Tel Aviv. We can press the representatives we elected not to send money that we need here for our elderly, our homeless, for jobs, to fight AIDS and hunger and cancer, to take care of our schools and all the other problems we have.”

“We’re at the moment in time where the movement needs to be built across all kinds of boundaries,” said Vilkomerson. Citing JVP’s campaign to end military aid to Israel, she compared the present Middle East crisis to the anti-apartheid struggle in South Africa and the struggles for democracy in Central America. “We certainly have a responsibility in terms of the aid that has gone with our tax dollars, and bringing it back to how much is being spent on military aid that could be used on domestic issues,” she said.

The author can be contacted at ncalview@igc.org

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