A week ago I received an e-mail from Tida telling us that our Tida group would be meeting Congressman Keith Ellison during his visit to the Strip. The name Keith Ellison was not new to me. I had heard about him when he was first elected; after all he is the first Muslim to be elected to Congress. Moreover, I knew Gaza was of a special interest to him.
I was very excited for the small event which was to be held on Friday April 2nd. Yet, since this is Gaza, there is a 90 % chance that something will go wrong – and it did. Friday’s meeting was canceled the Congressman was denied entry to Gaza through the Israeli crossing called Eretz. But he did not give up; he took a plane to Egypt and arrived the next day through the Rafah crossing.
Congressman Keith Ellison was extremely busy; he was only here for a short time and he was going to spend it with the people. Our chance came at Al Deira, a restaurant overlooking the Mediterranean.
I thought meeting a politician would be so serious and boring. But this was not the case with the congressman. The ice was immediately broken as he was down to earth and nice. I didn’t really feel that I was talking to a politician but rather a friend.
The congressman asked us first to introduce ourselves. To my surprise he was the one asking the questions not the other way around. I could tell he wanted to hear from us. As the meeting progressed, Mr. Ellison told us to consider him as our “Uncle”. He talked to us about many things among them; how we Gazans youth can help him in his efforts to end the siege. He talked to us about how peace in the Middle East is priority to the US since the very American system promotes peace and justice. He briefly talked about the Civil Rights movement in the United States back in the 50s and 60s noting this oppression makes him relate more to our plight. He talked also about Gaza’s image abroad, admitting that telling the true story of Gaza is not easy. So, he urged us to be the one who is telling the story using education and communication and talent.
The room for questions was over, the meeting unfortunately finished so quickly due to previous engagements he had. The less than 30 minute meeting was over. He gave us his e-mail address and told us to write to him and send him our latest updates. He left our table and went for yet another meeting.Too bad as I didn’t get the chance to ask the congressman about his own struggle that got him where he is today.
My friends and I spent an hour after he left us discussing the meeting. I think we all agreed that the meeting should have been longer. And we wanted to ask questions and listen more from him. But still it was a very nice and valuable experience. We met a Congressman who is trying to advocate our cause; we spoke to him candidly about our hopes and dreams. And the most important thing is that now we have an uncle in the US.
Such visits like the congressman’s and others are of a big importance. I am sure that the congressman after examining the situation of Gaza will continue to help raise awareness of the ongoing plight. The more voices we have supporting Gaza, the mores awareness is brought and eventually and hopefully actions will be taken to end the suffering of the Gaza population
He said that there was a slow paced change in perceiving and evaluating the siege imposed on the Strip. This change will be more effective if we, in Gaza, unite our efforts with those who are standing by us. Opening proxies of dialogues and debates to create a better understanding to the situation is one thing among other things we can do to help Keith Ellison and others in our and their mission to end the siege.