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Ellison questions Clinton on Gaza

WASHINGTON, D.C. -- In a somewhat tense interchange, Rep. Keith Ellison, D-Minn., questioned Secretary of State Hillary Clinton today about Gaza during a House Committee on Foreign Affairs hearing.

While Ellison pushed Clinton on freeing up travel to Gaza for government employees and working with Israel to open up the crossings, Clinton highlighted the groups and people who had recently traveled to Gaza and resisted Ellison’s argument that the crossings were overly restrictive.

“I would like to ask you to consider working with your counterparts in Israel about the opening up of the crossings,” Ellison said.

“Congressman, the crossings are no longer completely closed. There are many items that are being transported through the crossings. There are, as you know, some items that the Israeli government does not permit to cross,” Clinton responded. “The best way for us to help the people of Gaza is for Hamas to cease its rocket firing on Israel, to abide by the quartet principles, and the same principles that were adopted by the Arab peace initiative, which I have reiterated several times here today.”

“Yes, you have, Madame Secretary, and I appreciate you reiterating that,” Ellison said. “But, you know, 750,000 of the people who live in Gaza are under 18 years old. Gaza and Hamas are not the same thing.”

Here is a transcript of their back-and-forth.

ELLISON: Madame Secretary, I’d like to ask you to share your views on the possibility of lifting, or at least reviewing, the policy prohibiting U.S. government employees from all travel to the Gaza Strip. I’d like you to do that because to review that policy because as we talk about addressing humanitarian needs in Gaza along with the concern that no money flow to Hamas, I think it would reassure members of Congress, if members of the Administration could go there. So, could you share your views on that? I mean, I think there are changed circumstances — new administration, I know the convoy that was attacked in 2003 was a legitimate reason to pull back, but perhaps maybe it’s time to review.

CLINTON: Well Congressman, I have to look into that because not only have members of Congress, including yourself, gone to Gaza but US AID workers have gone to Gaza.

They have. As part of our surveys of what we are trying to determine is the best approach for our aid. There have not been high level administration visits, but we are a member of the quartet, and Tony Blair who is the quartet representative, has gone into Gaza several times. So, I will look into this and I will determine whether my understanding is accurate and will get back to you.

ELLISON: I just mention that Madam Secretary ‘cause after we left Gaza, and you pointed out that I did go there, we met with members of US AID and we asked them about what they thought about what was happening there and they said, ‘Well we’re not allowed to go.’ So, thank you for looking into that.

My next question is, I would like to ask you to consider working with your counterparts in Israel about the opening up of the crossings. I know that humanitarian aid does flow and I understand that Israel has legitimate security concerns regarding the crossings, but I think that the as the crossings are so tightly controlled what ends up happening is that most of the goods and services that end up in Gaza flow through the tunnels and I think that if the crossings open we could enlist average citizens in helping to close the tunnels. But because the crossing are closed people have to depend upon the tunnels which, of course, contraband goes through so do you have any views on how you might approach that subject? What do you think about that?

CLINTON: Congressman, the crossings are no longer completely closed there are many items that are being transported through the crossings there are, as you know, some items that the Israeli government does not permit to cross. We have urged the Israeli government on several occasions to open the crossings as much as they are able commensurate with their legitimate security needs, which you recognized. The best way for us to help the people of Gaza is for Hamas to cease its rocket firing on Israel, to abide by the quartet principles, and the same principles that were adopted by the Arab peace initiative, which I have reiterated several times here today.

ELLISON: Yes you have Madame Secretary and I appreciate you reiterating that but you know 750,000 of the people who live in Gaza are under 18 years old. Gaza and Hamas are not the same thing. There are a lot of people who have nothing to do with Hamas in Gaza and wish Hamas would go away. But, they are living under this, under the same, under these closed crossings and just to point out to you Madam Secretary you know there’s a very tight definition of what constitutes humanitarian aid. I mean, I’ve been there and I’ve seen it’s essentially sugar, flour, cooking oil. Even things like macaroni, lentils and tomato paste and fruit juice were barred. So I’d ask for you to respond to that.

CLINTON: Well, Congressman I know that those lists have changed because I have monitored this. I think when you went, which was somewhere early in January if I’m not mistaken.

ELLISON: February 19th.

CLINTON: February. We have looked at the lists and a lot of what has been said was not permitted to cross is just not accurate.

ELLISON: Reclaim my time.

CLINTON: I’m not speaking for the decisions made.

ELLISON: Reclaim my time...

CLINTON: By the Israeli government in the pursuit of their own security. I think what we want is to get back to a process, an effort, a negotiations that would lead to a two state solution.

ELLISON: Well. Um. 

(TIME EXPIRED)

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Comments (3)

They've been fighting for hundreds of years Mr. Ellison. Why don't we try to solve some of the problems closer to home?

Perhaps Secretary Clinton could spend a full day at a checkpoint where Palestinians needing medical care are kept waiting for hours and sometimes strip-searched before finally being allowed to cross into Israel. And perhaps could watch their farm crops (if any are still possible) be destroyed because Israel is afraid they might earn money for Hamas instead of for a farmer.

Perhaps a few thousand people could remind Secretary Clinton that, while Hamas's ORIGINAL documents mirrored those of a radical Egyptian group, they have said many times in recent years that they are very willing to accept Israel's right to exist and to give up violence -- as soon as Israel is ready to do the same.

Madame Secretary, I believe the hearts and minds of the people of Gaza will never be won while Israel continues the practice of what amounts to be(perceived at least) abuse and hardship at the crossings.

Why not set up a trial period where a real relaxation is followed. Limiting criteria for the success of this process would need to be developed by both sides. Evaluation data would then be agreed to before the process is started.

However, even If the pilot were to fail, would things be any worse than they are now? I'm sure that could be debated.