During the meeting, they requested that the Department negotiate the release of American prisoners at the same time as Palestinians were being released by the Sharon government, as a significant gesture by Israel of its friendship with the American people.
Nazir Hussain and Norman Tanber, members of the Arab American Republican Club of Orange County, asked in a statement presented at the meeting for more effective protection of American prisoners in Israel as a way of “recapturing the moral high ground.” Nicholas Dibs, another member, called the discussion “a meeting for those who can’t speak for themselves,” and spoke at length on the need for greater transparency on the question of Palestinian-Americans caught up in the Israeli justice system.
Meeting with the group were Acting Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Consular Affairs Catherine Barry, and David J. Green, representing Deputy Assistant Secretary for Near Eastern Affairs Elizabeth Dibble. The meeting had taken almost a year to arrange.
Jerri Bird, president of Partners for Peace, participated in the first meeting with the Department of State on this issue four years ago. She reviewed for the present officials the egregious use of torture she had discovered through considerable investment in time and effort.
Accompanying the delegation was Ambassador Edward Peck, former Chief of Mission to Baghdad, who spoke of “the intolerable, indefensible silence of the American government over the imprisonment of U.S. citizens,” and Dr. Riad Abdelkarim who, as head of an International Medical Corps fact-finding mission to the West Bank in 2002, explained how he was jailed for 15 days, with any charges or explanations being given for his detention. Nor was he given any effective assistance by the consular staff of the American embassy. No U.S. demands were made for his release. He said that for three years he had been unable to obtain a meeting with State Department officials.
The delegation submitted 10 actions for the Department of State to consider, including:
Huwaida Arraf of the International Solidarity Movement and Michael Brown, executive director of Partners for Peace, drew attention to the failure of the government to publicly criticize Israel over the recent detention of U.S. citizen Pat O’Connor, an ISM volunteer working in the West Bank. Two years ago, another ISM volunteer, Rachel Corrie, was crushed to death by a US-exported Caterpillar bulldozer driven by an Israeli solider, and the US has never demanded an independent investigation into the incident.
The State Department officials apologized to Dr. Abdelkarim for his treatment, and promised to look into the reasons why he, American citizens Dr. Laila al-Marayati of the Muslim Women’s League and chairwoman of KinderUSA, and Ms. Dalell Mohmed of KinderUSA, who also attended the meeting, were banned from returning to the West Bank. If able, they offered to assist with their return.
The delegation included the Council for the National Interest, Partners for Peace, the Arab American Republican Club of Orange County (which organized the meeting), the International Solidarity Movement, KinderUSA, the Muslim Women’s League, the Muslim Public Affairs Committee, and American Muslims for Jerusalem. Also attending were several congressional aides.
The Council for the National Interest is a non-profit, non-partisan grassroots organization advocating a new direction for U.S. Middle East policy. As CNI Founding Chairman Paul Findley notes, CNI is “motivated by the national interest of our country in Middle East policy… CNI provides a way for all citizens, regardless of religious affiliation or national origin, to speak out in an effective way. Those who participate can help advance the national interest in the Middle East and at the same time help repair the damage being done to our political institutions by the over-zealous tactics of Israel’s lobby.”