Washington, D.C. – February 27, 2009 – Congressman Brian Baird (D-WA) and Congressman Keith Ellison (D-MN), the first American legislators, along with Senator John Kerry, to visit Gaza since 2000, made their first joint TV appearance since their return from the Middle East on Dr. James Zogbyâ€™s weekly show, â€œViewpoint with James Zogbyâ€.
The two congressmen discussed crossing into Gaza, the Palestinians and aid workers they met, and the destruction they saw firsthand. â€œItâ€™s an immediate difference. You go into a realm where people are using donkey carts to get around, where you can drive down a street and just all of a sudden, come across an entire destroyed area,â€ said Baird.
The two congressmen stated their belief that there is an immediate need for humanitarian relief to Gaza, and that the Israeli government must be persuaded to open the borders for humanitarian aid. â€œWe need to put urgent and immediate pressure on the Israeli government to allow more relief supplies in the short run, to be more open at the border, to let people and goods come in and out,â€ said Baird.
Congressman Baird said that it is in the United Statesâ€™ long-term national security interest to pursue a policy of moderation in the region. â€œI think we, as a responsible friend of Israel — which I consider myself — and a friend of the Palestinian people, we have to say, some things are right, some things are wrong, weâ€™re going to not support the things that are wrong,â€ said Baird.
Congressman Ellison spoke about the need to create an incentive for peace in the region, arguing that as Palestinians in the West Bank have maintained law and order, there hasnâ€™t been any reward to them for peace. â€œWe havenâ€™t seen any reduction of the outposts, the illegal outposts or any of the checkpoints taken down… over 600 in the West Bank,â€ said Ellison. However, there has been an increase in the settlement activity, Ellison noted.
When asked to share what stood out in their memory of what they saw, Congressman Baird described standing on the remains of a house and looking at what he called â€˜a panorama of destruction.â€™
â€œThe entire industrial area absolutely leveled, building after building after building, not just hit by one round from a tank or one missile, but intentionally leveled and every piece of equipment absolutely destroyed,â€ Baird said. â€œYou donâ€™t forget that.â€
Although the congressmenâ€™s mission was not designed to address the political crisis, they both said that the Palestinians need to come to an agreement under a national unity government. â€œThe basic terms of a lasting peace have been spelled out, stop the settlement expansion, â€˜67 borders, shared capital in Jerusalem,â€ said Baird.
For more information on how to watch â€œViewpointâ€ and to catch up on recent episodes, please visit Viewpointâ€™s website.