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February 4, 2010

WIESENTHAL CENTER URGES US LAWMAKERS TO RECONSIDER GAZA “BLOCKADE” PROTEST TO PRESIDENT OBAMA

Senior SWC official cites recent first-hand observations at Gaza border: “Hamas must bear full responsibility for current situation”

A senior official with the Simon Wiesenthal Center, who recently travelled to two key crossings between Israel and the Palestinian-governed areas, today urged 54 House members to reconsider their letter urging President Obama to address a humanitarian crisis resulting from Israel’s alleged blockade against Gaza.

In a letter to all fifty-four co-signers of the letter, which included Representatives Keith Ellison (D-MN), Jim Moran (D-VA) and John Dingell (D-MI), Rabbi Abraham Cooper, associate dean of the Wiesenthal Center, wrote about his observations from a recent trip to two crossings, Kerem Shalom, adjacent to the Egypt/Gaza border and the Sha’ar Efraim Terminal on the West Bank. Cooper said that while he shared their concerns about innocent civilians on both sides of the Gaza border, he reminded the Representatives that, “it is Hamas, not Israel, that bears the full responsibility for the current situation.” Cooper said that Hamas’ response to Israel’s unilateral withdrawal from Gaza in 2005 was continued terror and rocket barrages on Israeli civilians. “Nonetheless, despite these conditions, Israel has continued to facilitate the movement of food and other necessities to ensure that no one in Gaza would go without food or medicine,” Cooper wrote. “During the 3 hours of my visit on January 21, I saw numerous trucks including pallets of bottled water destined for businesses and homes make their way from the Israeli to the Palestinian side,” he also wrote, adding that because of ongoing security concerns, “What I saw could hardly be called ‘normal’ commerce but neither did it constitute a ‘blockade.’ No one is starving in Gaza and basic goods needed by the civilian population are being transferred from Israel to Gaza.” Rabbi Cooper also provided to the Congressmen a list of goods brought in and out of Gaza during 2009, with statistics provided by the Israeli government indicating a 900% increase over 2008.

Further proof that it is only Hamas' terrorism and violence that is responsible for current conditions in Gaza, Cooper said, comes from the totally different situation he found at the Sha’ar Efraim crossing, adjacent to areas controlled by the Palestinian Authority. There, over 1000 trucks and as many as 3,000 Palestinian civilians can cross each day, all processed with strict but minimal security measures. “The people I interviewed who work there have a can-do attitude to facilitate efficient movement of goods and people,” Cooper wrote. “The bottom line--Israeli and Palestinian business people are left alone to do their business with little or no interference. The only requirement is that each truck is X-rayed to ensure there is no contraband or materials that could be used by terrorists,” he added.

Cooper urged the lawmakers to, “reconsider your position and to arrange to visit these transit facilities and those taken by Egypt, on its border with the Hamas-controlled territory, to get a fuller understanding of the facts on the ground.”

The Simon Wiesenthal Center is one of the largest international Jewish human rights organizations with over 400,000 member families in the United States. It is an NGO at international agencies including the United Nations, UNESCO, the OSCE, the OAS, the Council of Europe and the Latin American Parliament (Parlatino).

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