As a member of the Riverdale Jewish community — and a staunch proponent of peace, justice and self-determination for both Israelis and Palestinians — I am elated that my congressman, Jamaal Bowman, took the time in November to participate in a congressional delegation to Israel and the occupied Palestinian territory.
As an energetic and determined first-term member of Congress who has been working tirelessly to advocate for our district, I am sure Rep. Bowman has a great many priorities to keep him busy right now. Yet, rather than simply resting up during the most recent congressional recess, he hopped on a plane, flew to the Middle East, and engaged in an extensive multi-day fact-finding trip in order to experience firsthand the reality faced by Israelis and Palestinians.
Instead of just relying on the analysis or talking points of others, the congressman made it a priority to meet directly with Palestinian and Israeli leaders, activists and experts, in their own communities and places of work.
Joining distinguished colleagues — including Appropriations Committee chair Rosa DeLauro and U.S. Rep. Barbara Lee — Rep. Bowman traveled on a delegation organized by J Street, the pro-Israel, pro-peace organization that advocates for Israeli-Palestinian peace, a two-state solution, and an end to the occupation — and which represents the views and values of many American Jews like myself.
While some delegations to the region may heavily focus on the perspective and narrative of only one side to the conflict, J Street’s trips strive to provide elected officials with a balanced, nuanced, complex and honest view of the situation on the ground. It ensures that members of Congress receive a thorough understanding of the threats and challenges faced by both peoples, the attachment that each feels to the land, and the impact that the policies of Israeli and Palestinian leaders — as well as those of the United States — are actually having.
While in Israel, Congressman Bowman met face-to-face with members of the Israeli government and parliament, including Prime Minister Naftali Bennett, foreign minister Yair Lapid, and leading members of the progressive Labor and Meretz parties.
He heard from the Israeli Defense Forces about the “iron dome,” and met with communities along Israel’s southern border who have repeatedly faced the destructive impact of Hamas rocket fire.
He engaged with a wide range of Israeli civil society leaders and activists — including Palestinian citizens of Israel — who are focused on fighting for peace, social justice and democracy.
Touring Jerusalem, he saw up close the sacred Western Wall, and learned more about the horrors and lessons of the Holocaust at Yad Vashem, while also witnessing the plight of Palestinian families who face attempts by settlers to displace them from their neighborhoods in East Jerusalem.
Across the Green Line in the occupied West Bank, the congressman met with Palestinian Authority prime minister Mohammad Shtayyeh in Ramallah. In the South Hebron Hills, he met with Palestinian families — including young students — who have repeatedly seen their homes and schools demolished by Israeli bulldozers seeking to make way for new settlements and displace Palestinians from their land. Communities that have faced a recent surge in harassment and violence by right-wing settler groups, and who live without running water or electricity while neighboring settlers build comfortable suburbs with private roads.
Congressman Bowman was able to spend time with Palestinian children who long for the same thing as Israeli children — peace, self-determination, dignity and freedom.
Absurdly but predictably, Rep. Bowman already has taken flak from both the left and the right for taking this trip and choosing to engage openly and honestly with the reality faced by both peoples. The Democratic Socialists of America have harshly denounced him for daring to even set foot in Israel or meet with Israeli officials, and of traveling with a group that cares about the safety and future of Israel, and supports a two-state solution.
On the other hand, some on the right flank of our community have groused about the congressman participating in a trip led by J Street, a group that emphasizes the importance of learning from Palestinians as well as from Israelis — and which, like the congressman himself, doesn’t hesitate to criticize unjust or harmful Israeli government policies.
I hope many members of our community will let Congressman Bowman know that whatever abuse he may take from the extremes, so many of his constituents are grateful for his political courage and empathy in pursuing the truth about this complicated part of the world, and in respecting the common humanity of both Israelis and Palestinians.
We appreciate his commitment to promoting peace, defending human rights, and confronting injustice. And we hope that more of our elected officials will follow his lead by choosing active, open engagement with Israel, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and the ongoing occupation, instead of settling for easy answers and over-simplified dogmas.