"We live in an American Democracy where the rules of the game are such that American citizens can and should organize themselves to advocate for the policy changes they believe in...it makes a difference." - Hady Amr, Nonresident Senior Fellow - Foreign Policy, Brookings Institute
This past Monday, June 5, marked 50 years of the military occupation of the Palestinian Territories – West Bank, Gaza, and East Jerusalem – and in tandem, the Independence Day of Israel. In response, Churches for Middle East Peace, a coalition of 27 national Church denominations and organizations held an advocacy event in Washington D.C. We heard from leaders from the three primary religions represented in Palestine/Israel: Jewish, Christian, and Muslim, on topics ranging from realities on the ground, intersectionality with U.S. based movements, and concluding with advocacy training and congressional meetings. I wanted to share with all of you some of the key takeaways and hope they will be helpful to you, too!
Dr. Jim Zogby, President and co-founder of the Arab American Institute, shared specifically about the struggles and needs of Christian Palestinians. While it is important to continuously work for the larger issues at hand, namely, an end to the occupation, he chooses to give his attention to more detailed issues created by the larger issues. Over the last four years his attention has been significantly focused on religious freedom, working with the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom, to which he was appointed by President Obama to serve in monitoring global violations of religious freedom and make policy recommendations to the President, Secretary of State and Congress. You can find some of his work here, specifically concerning the lack of pressure and accountability toward Israel for inhibiting the religious freedom of anyone other an Orthodox, that is, non-Orthodox Jews, secular Jews, Christians, Muslims, and people of other or no faith tradition. As for Christians he says:
"Become advocates for people who are in need, and in this case it's the church that's in need. ...It's not just the Church, when you're helping Christians you're also helping Muslims, and I believe you're also helping Jews." - Dr. Jim Zogby
It is vital we persevere in addressing both the big picture and its details. It is then for us to discern which and when we are compelled to respond and invest in each. All of this work speaks and serves.
"You have this power. Your advocacy has power" - Lara Friedman, President of Foundation for Middle East Peace
How To Advocate:
The most helpful portion of the advocacy event was in fact learning how to do advocacy, and do it effectively. Those of us new to the practice were partnered with those seasoned in advocacy.
- Engage your elected representatives days in and day out:
- On a local level
- Town Halls
- Writing Op-Eds
- Social Media
- Building local coalitions
Signs of Hope:
Meeting with your congressional leaders:
Advocate both for big picture issues (i.e. an end to the occupation) and individual components (i.e. Religious freedom and full access for all religions to the holy sites in Jerusalem, or an end to human rights abuses of incarcerated Palestinian youth.)
1-3 Key points:
Example: Our key 3 points: Continue humanitarian aid to Gaza; Call for religious freedom for all people of faith in Palestine/Israel, namely, full access to the holy sites in Jerusalem for all; Prevent the movement of the U.S. Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.
When possible, include a brief story illustrating the importance of the issue. For example, in 2016 I lived with a Christian family and Bethlehem. They shared with me they could not worship together at the Church of the Holy Sepulcher in Jerusalem (just 5 miles away) on Easter because they had to apply for permits and when they did they were not granted permits for the entire family, only to a few members. So, they had to choose who would get to go. Not only is it disappointing, sad, even angering, but having to select which family members get to go can cause tension. This happens to Christians and Muslims, alike.
More Meeting Tips:
- Thank the member of congress or staff for meeting with you.
- Practice sharing your key points aloud.
- Have key point(s) memorized or close to so you can share them with confidence and dynamically.
- Feel free to bring your notes in with you in a folder
- Bring a notebook and pen to write down main points the member of congress or their staff person states. Note any follow-up questions they have for you.
- Be honest and authentic, it's totally fine if you do not know the answer to their question. Acknowledge it and tell them you will find the answer and follow-up with them.
- Write a thank you email and respond to their questions. If you think it will take you time to find the answers write a thank you and follow-up again with answers.
- Leave them with a document reiterating the key points or other material related to your issue or organization you are representing. Also leave a business card if you have one.
- Thank the member of congress or staff again for meeting with you.
Be a resource:
Get to know your cause and well. The more well read and articulate you can become on your area of concern the more likely congressional leaders and their staff will turn to you again for further information or even ask you to write material for them. They will regard you as a reliable resource and it will increase the likelihood of their support for your cause.
Write Op-Eds, articles, etc. in your local or nation newspaper, journals, social media page and circles, community group's update emails, anywhere else you can think of!
Blessings, courage and hope to you, practice makes improvement!
Creator of us all,
Draws us into harmony with you, with each other, and with ourselves
Moment by moment
Choice by choice
That we might know the richness of life
Discovered when we are exposed to the diversity of the world
That we might know the joy of life
Found when we increase in awareness and can begin to notice the little and big gifts ever-coming to us and dwelling in our midst.
That we might know the love of life
Reveled when we vulnerably endeavor to notice that which veils our eyes, ears, and hearts and take the step to let love transform it. And then do it again.
Sign If Not Now's Open Letter: "I Will Confront -- Not Celebrate -- 50 Years of Occupation"