WASHINGTON – A delegation of Democratic lawmakers on Wednesday visited Hebron and Sussia, two areas that have become flash points of settler violence and emblems of Israel’s occupation in the Palestinian territories.
The lawmakers, including Reps. Mark Pocan and Jamaal Bowman, visited Sussia – a village in the South Hebron Hills – alongside prominent Palestinian activist Nasser Nawajah and Avner Gvaryahu, executive director of the anti-occupation NGO Breaking the Silence. Their visit took place days after Israeli soldiers prevented Palestinians from accessing a playground shortly after settlers arrived there.
Pocan, who is one of the fiercest advocates in Congress for Palestinian rights, tweeted that they discussed settler violence with Nawajah, adding: “We will be watching to make sure no violence occurs this weekend or anytime.”
Gvaryahu, whose organization consists of ex-Israeli soldiers who recount their experiences serving in the occupied territories, noted that just a few hours after the lawmakers concluded their visit to the West Bank, “settlers from a nearby outpost attacked a Palestinian community yet again.”
He added: “These abhorrent actions have become the norm in these parts, and it’s important the [lawmakers] now realize how common and dangerous this reality is – and how important it is for them to speak out against it.”
Gvaryahu recently met with other U.S. officials such as Democratic Reps. Ilhan Omar and Andy Levin during a Washington visit.
Sussia is located in the West Bank’s Area C, which is under full Israeli military and civilian control. Its residents, among the poorest in the West Bank, have been forcibly relocated from their land several times over the past 35 years.
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Over the summer, Nawaja accused Israeli authorities of using a newly constructed checkpoint – meant for Israelis prohibited from entering the West Bank’s Area A under COVID-19 guidelines – as a tool to harass him and other activists, as well as generally restricting Palestinian freedom of movement.
The delegation, brought to Israel by the left-wing J Street organization, also met with students at an UNRWA-run school in Hebron.
“There are streets they cannot walk and places they cannot go, simply because they are Palestinian. When I asked about their dreams, their answer was simple: freedom. The occupation must end,” said Bowman, the first-term lawmaker who has quickly become a leading critic on Capitol Hill of Israeli policy toward the Palestinians.
The fact that Lapid and Bennett met with such a delegation marks a stark shift from the years under the previous prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, who effectively led a government boycott of J Street along with former Israel Ambassador to the U.S. Ron Dermer.
Netanyahu attacked J Street as a “radical leftist U.S. organization” that was rooting for his ouster due to its support for the Iran nuclear deal. Two other bipartisan congressional delegations are also visiting the region and meeting with senior Israeli officials: one is led by key Biden ally Sen. Chris Coons and another led by House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer.