Posted by on May 30, 2013 in Blog

By: Alexander Matika

Summer 2013 Intern

Churches for Middle East Peace (CMEP) held its annual Advocacy Conference this past Monday at The Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C.

Formed in 1984, CMEP is a coalition of 25 national church denominations and organizations, including Catholic, Orthodox and Protestant traditions. The organization works to encourage U.S. government policies that actively promote a just, lasting, and comprehensive resolution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, ensuring security, human rights and religious freedom for all peoples of the region.

Aiming to inform attendees about the peacemaking process, the conference equipped participants with tools to successfully advocate for legislation promoting peace in their own communities throughout the country. Attendees learned these skills via captivating speakers, engaging workshops, and lobby preparation. One of this year’s plenary speakers was Leila Hilal, director of the Middle East Task Force at the New America Foundation, who updated participants on the current situation in the region.

Hilal previously served as senior policy advisor to the Commissioner-General of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) and as legal aide to Palestinian negotiators from 2002-2008. She focuses on community-based change, human rights law, and transitional justice in the Middle East.

Addressing the emerging political environment within the region, Hilal argued that, “…power has become dislodged, is diffuse within the region.” Such an environment has fostered the value now placed on public opinion. Hilal went on to say that the identities of marginalized groups have come to be discernible, previously unheard of within this regional power vacuum. With the current centers of Palestinian public thought being prisoners’ rights and the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions campaign, amplified demands for social justice are evident amongst the populace.

“Social media has begun to propel collective action”, Hilal noted. It has allowed Palestinians in Gaza, the West Bank and the Diaspora to mobilize and communicate effectively. Hilal expressed the importance of this trend moving forward.

Addressing the “global consciousness of multiplicitous identities” Hilal questioned the commitment of the younger Jewish Diaspora to a fully Jewish state, sensing apathy and disengagement from the issue, and whether Zionism is losing ground with younger Israelis.

Hilal closed by quoting from President Obama’s 2009 speech at Cairo University: "I've come here to Cairo to seek a new beginning… one based on mutual interest and mutual respect… shar[ing] common principles -- principles of justice and progress; tolerance and the dignity of all human beings.”

Comparing the President’s words in his Cairo address to today’s current state of affairs, Hilal dismissed Obama’s renewed efforts as not actually engaging in new peace efforts, but rather adopting measures solely to ease the pain of occupation. Measures that Hilal critiqued included: expanding Palestinian zones of sovereignty, decreasing restrictions on movement, and increasing economic opportunity (particularly between Israeli and Palestinian private sector cooperation; recently outlined by Secretary John Kerry at the World Economic Forum in Jordan).  

With President Obama seemingly solely focused on ‘economic peace’, Hilal concluded by noting the importance of regional powers in proposing new solutions and paradigms for peace.

She also denounced the Administration’s treatment of Gaza as an irrelevant enclave.

On Tuesday May 21, following a prayer breakfast at the Capitol Hill Presbyterian Church led by Diane Randall of The Religious Society of Friends, peacemakers went to over 75 congressional offices to encourage their representatives to address these vital issues.


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